For years, Idaho’s House of Representatives and State Senate has voted to renew the Administrative Code and, in doing so, approved any new rules created by our numerous state agencies. At the beginning of the most recent legislative session, Idaho had over 8,000 pages of administrative rules! These ranged in topics, covering everything from vaccinations to schooling to water rights and more. Such rules and regulations, primarily developed by unelected government officials, essentially have the full force and effect of law and, as such, govern the lives of all Idahoans.
However, at the close of the 2019 legislative session, the bill to approve the rules for another year remained unsigned, and on July 1, 2019, every rule expired. Many of the rules were reauthorized by Governor Brad Little, but, in an attempt to trim down the code, the Governor let many parts of the code lapse. He presented the public with a unique opportunity to provide input and comments on the new administrative code. As such, citizens may publicly voice their opinions and concerns via the petitioning process to request public hearings on any specific rule change(s). Requests for these valuable public hearings were submitted for numerous rules, such as abortion funding, child protection safety, water rights, comprehensive assessments, stream channel alterations, and Common Core.
However, the proposed rule change that received the most attention was the Department of Health and Welfare’s rule 16.02.08, called the “vital statistics rule.” This rule, neither created by nor approved by elected state officials, allows individuals to change the sex listed on their birth certificate. It had existed for about a year but underwent a small change on July 3rd, which opened it up for public comment. But time was short; requests for public hearings were due within two weeks, and most Idahoans were focused on spending Independence Day with their families, not bureaucratic rule changes.
Fortunately, on July 12th, the proposed rule change was uncovered. Almost immediately, the Madison Liberty Institute posted an online petition that was quickly shared across Idaho. The response was incredible. By the deadline five days later, 22 of Idaho’s 44 counties had enough signatures to call for a public hearing in their county. Those counties are Ada, Bannock, Benewah, Bingham, Boise, Bonner, Bonneville, Boundary, Canyon, Cassia, Custer, Elmore, Fremont, Gem, Idaho, Jefferson, Kootenai, Lemhi, Madison, Owyhee, Twin Falls, and Valley.
As impressive as it was to see the number of names rise on the petition, we were most impressed with our fellow Idahoans’ grassroots efforts and how quickly news of the petition spread across the state. Several state legislators shared the petition with their constituents. Members of our team sent out emails and took to social media. The Neal Larson Show sparked a petition drive for the counties within their audience. More than anything, enthusiastic, concerned Idahoans across the state took time to personally reach out to friends, neighbors, and relatives to invite them to add their name to call for a public hearing. Together, these groups and individuals found success and proved that Idahoans want to have a voice on the rules that affect their lives and communities.
Idahoans want to be heard!
And it’s a good thing too because the work is far from over.
Although the individual county petitions request public hearings in each of the 22 counties, similar petitions have faced roadblocks when the state agencies opted for hearing by “region” instead of by county. Instead of hosting public hearings in the counties that submitted the petitions, agency officials have opted to ONLY set up two or three hearings in locations that would require many who signed the petitions to travel hours just to be heard. This IS NOT the way state government should be doing business.
To keep that from happening, and to ensure true accountability, we must continue to let our voices be heard through calling for public hearings in the counties that have asked for them. The citizens of these counties requested the public hearings. Therefore, shouldn’t they be afforded the courtesy of having one in their own county or, at the very least, one closer to home?
We thank all of you for your efforts, and we look forward to continuing to work together as we call for freedom and government accountability in our state!
Keelyn Wright currently resides in Idaho, where she is a student at Brigham Young University – Idaho working towards her Bachelor’s degree in history. In addition to her schooling, Keelyn works as a policy and research intern at Madison Liberty Institute. When not busy with work or school, Keelyn enjoys relaxing by playing games with friends or family and reading. She also enjoys learning through her participation and membership in the student-liberty clubs at Spark Freedom like the Intercollegiate Studies Institution and Turning Point – USA.