When Dean Dimond stands before the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee, a deep line etched into the back of his hair where a ball cap normally rests, and begs for democracy, lawmakers are hard-pressed to ignore him.
Dimond is a farmer from Hunt, just outside of Jerome. Normally, Dimond is the sort of man legislators claim to represent--except when they favor those who want to put 20,000 or 40,000 cows on a piece of ground next-door to him. Dimond has protested a proposal for a large feedlot, also known as a confined animal feeding operation, or CAFO, right down the road from his home.
But thanks to an exception that the 2000 Legislature wrote into law, Dimond's father, who owns the farm but has retired to Wendell, can't testify in Jerome at the now-delayed CAFO hearing. His neighbor, also retired, can't testify. The local school board can't testify either. That's because the Legislature allowed counties to limit testimony to folks who live within a mile of a proposed superfarm. Jerome is apparently the only county strictly enforcing the limit.
"I beg of you to please look at this," Dimond told lawmakers.
Last year, a bill to remove the one-mile radius test failed to make it through the Legislature. This year, Sen. Clint Stennett, who says he used to run pipe on the same ground that Dimond now farms, is sponsoring a bill that would force counties to let "affected persons" testify, regardless of their place of residence.
"Affected" is understood to mean people with a property interest in the area, including renters. That still excludes a large number of people interested in the Jerome County case, such as managers of the national monument at the site of the former Minidoka Internment Camp, just over a mile away from the proposed CAFO.
Idaho Cattle Association lobbyist Lloyd Knight said feedlot operators and dairymen are shocked at the way people talk about them at these hearings.
Knight suggested to the Senate Agricultural Affairs Committee last week that his members ought to get bumper stickers on their pickups that read: "Livestock producers are people, too."
The committee took pains to agree, but unanimously approved the bill.
"I'm always embarrassed when situations like this occur," said Sen. Tim Corder, a Republican from Mountain Home. "They (counties) force us to take an action that they should have taken themselves."
No one representing Jerome County appeared at the hearing.