Mich Coffman reports: Founded in 1974 with a merger of the Idaho State Chambers and the Associated Industries of Idaho, the Idaho Association of the Commerce and Industry (IACI) is generally regarded as the most influential and involved business lobbying organization in the state. It counts nearly 300 businesses as part of its organization.

Now headed by Alex LaBeau, the group was once directed by the current lieutenant governor of Idaho, Brad Little. LaBeau views the 2012 session of the Idaho Legislature as positive for some of the goals of his organization, but does not hesitate to detail where he feels lawmakers fell short including property tax reform and health care considerations.

The Legislature approved legislation giving the state authority over oil and gas sites and exploration rather than leaving it up to individual counties. From “a regulatory standpoint, having the state be in charge of the state’s resources is important. We do it with mining, we do it with timber, we do it with fish and game, we do it with water. We wanted to make sure that oil and gas had the same regulatory framework and getting that solution passed was very good,” says LaBeau.

As for education, clearly the hot button issue in 2011 with a package of reforms passed by the Legislature, the IACI president was pleased with how it fared this session. He believes “funding the education reforms as well investing in higher education” were positives for the Legislature, but he sees education as a major issue for the 2013 Legislature because it is such a big part of the state budget.

One disappointing area for IACI was tax reform. The organization was a strong backer of reforming or eliminating the personal property tax. It did not happen, but LaBeau promises the issue will be back in 2013. “We will be running legislation next year, no questions asked. You’ll see the personal property tax take front and center for us and that will be, probably, the biggest issue we will want to see pushed forward and getting a final solution on that for all businesses in the state,” he declares.

Another area of disappointment for LaBeau was the lack of action by the governor and lawmakers for health care measures, including laying some groundwork for Obamacare or, at least, creating a framework for some kind of health care reform including an exchange. “We all pay for everyone’s health care already, we’re just arguing over how to pay for it,” he says. “There’s this perception (a fear of socialized medicine) versus reality out there … you know the reality is that we’re going to have to deal with this health care issue one way or another and it’s best to get people into a managed care system and an exchange would’ve probably helped that.”

The United States Supreme Court is expected to rule on Obamacare this summer, a decision awaited by foes and supporters to provide some direction on health care options. LaBeau believes lawmakers used the coming court decision as a reason to put off a decision on health care reform and an exchange of some kind and that, he says, was a mistake. “I think that’s a huge gamble on the future of the state of Idaho when they didn’t have to gamble that way. They could’ve held all their options open by passing legislation, but they chose not to and that was probably the biggest disappointment of the Legislature, not having the courage to be able to move forward with that.”

One fear is the court finding that the federal government can use the commerce clause to mandate public policy; in this case, mandated health care coverage. LaBeau is not sure “if that’s a good argument or not. I suppose that when you’re engaged in the process testing the law you’re going to seize on a number of different items that help that case on one side or the other.” The court will make the “determination of what the Congress has the power to do and the power not to do.”

But he remains steadfast in support of health care reform. “It doesn’t really matter what the decision is coming out of the Supreme Court, we’re still going to have a health care problem that we have to deal with, and that’s the rapidly escalating cost of health care. There are some reforms that have to happen in that arena, because we’re on an unsustainable path,” says LaBeau.

Another proposal viewed as a potential cost saving to Idahoans was to permit out-of-state companies to sell insurance in Idaho. The idea did not survive in the Legislature, and LaBeau admits he is unsure what to think about it. “I haven’t studied that issue close enough to let you know whether or not that’s really going to make a whole heck of a lot of difference. The problem that you have with buying an insurance policy across the state line is that an insurance company in another state may not have contracted with physicians in state, so you’re automatically without a network. So, there is that issue. But, those that argue for being able to buy insurance across state lines are essentially arguing for federal health care.”

Another issue of interest to IACI was urban renewal legislation, with LaBeau noting that “we knew that there needed to be some reforms to the urban renewal law. You know, for every five or six great results from an urban renewal district action, we have one or two that were questionable. And so, the need for reform was there, that was clear. But I think our position on it was, ‘Don’t throw everything out, it’s one of the few tools local governments have for economic development.’ Let’s find a way to reform it and make sure that it’s being used properly.” To that end, IACI supported House Bill 95 during the 2011 session, which dealt with election of board members, removal of a board commissioner, power of urban renewal districts and bond amortization. “We want to see the reforms from House Bill 95 have a chance,” he says.

Other items of interest and concern to IACI include:

- Video franchising: LaBeau was pleased the Legislature approved the bill. “It’s a one-stop shop, you don’t have to go and franchise with every single city. It’s the first of its kind in the country to have the ability to franchise on a statewide basis, which will invite a lot more investment into broadband technology in the state, so that will help with our infrastructure.”

- Special use permits: “We fixed a problem that was created by Supreme Court on special use permits, which had to happen because it put a lot of conditional use permits in jeopardy and we had to make sure that that was taken care of. So, from that perspective, the Legislature did a very good job.”

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