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Idaho tribes call for fix in new state law

Originally known as HB 173, the law deals with foreign entities owning certain properties in Idaho. Language in the law appears to unintentionally include tribes.

BOISE, Idaho — Unintended consequences can be a byproduct of the legislative process.

In a recently passed Idaho law, it is a lack of words drawing attention to a possible gap in the law.

Originally called House Bill 173, the law deals with foreign entities owning certain properties and assets in Idaho.

As described in the legislation's statement of purpose: the law prohibits a foreign government or foreign government-controlled entity from purchasing, acquiring or holding a controlling interest in agricultural land, water rights, mining claims or mineral rights in the state of Idaho.

The law is tied into fears of foreign ownership of large swaths of land near military installations in other states.

Earlier this year a major story to the east of Idaho, a Chinese company had plans to build a grain mill plant near an Air Force base in North Dakota. That was stopped by the Pentagon while U.S. lawmakers questioned if the plan compromised national security and military interests. Eventually local officials got rid of the project all together. 

Lawmakers in Idaho took note of that, saying in testimony back in March that they don't want entities like China or Russia buying up lots of land, under the guise of farming, near Idaho military bases.

One problem, a lobbying group representing native tribes in Idaho noticed the wording might go too far.

They brought it up Friday at the Idaho Council on Indian Affairs meeting. 

They point to what a foreign government counts as, according to the law. Blake Youde, a local lobbyist, represents the Shoshone-Bannock tribes. He told lawmakers Friday he has also been in conversation with other tribes as well. 

“A foreign government means a government other than the federal government of the United States or the government of any state political subdivision of a state territory or possession of the United States. And what the bill did is it created unintentional consequence, and that is the omission of federally recognized Indian tribes,” Youde told the committee. 

Youde says the new law has created confusion for title companies and county clerks. 

The Shoshone-Bannock tribe as well as the Cour D’Alene tribes reported an issue with the law during recent land acquisitions.

 “It really becomes an issue of, you know, while the legal precedents is there, title companies aren't exactly always legal scholars. And that's not a an insult to the title companies, but having to be very clear on the definitions since the definition is very specific on who is excluded, as a foreign government would just make this a lot cleaner, more specific, and make the take the hitch out of these transactions,” Youde said. 

Youde spoke with stakeholders, here is the suggestion from the tribes and the reception they are getting from lawmakers. 

“The amendment we would propose is to include very specifically federally recognized Indian tribes in that list of what is not a foreign government. So that would be an amendment that would be with attorneys having the final input somewhere along between lines 34 and 36 on that list,” Youde said. “We have spoken with the bill's sponsors. They're open to the amendment. We've been encouraged, actually, to get it drafted and run the bill as soon as fast as possible. Even with an emergency clause in the next session so that this clarity doesn't wait till July 1st, but would actually be clear assuming it passes the legislature and is signed by the governor.”

 Idaho lawmakers are expected back for their full legislative session in January.

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