TWIN FALLS — Regional state lawmakers met Monday with the City Council to hear city concerns before the legislative session starts in January. And top-of-mind for the city’s police chief was body cameras and how the state may regulate them.
Regulation of body-worn cameras, which have been getting more common in Idaho and which Twin Falls police started to use this year. Police Chief Craig Kingsbury urged legislators to tread lightly.
“The talk of legislating how we utilize body-worn cameras, quite frankly, makes me a little bit nervous as a chief,” Kingsbury told the group, who met in the City Council chambers before Monday’s regular Council meeting.
Twin Falls’ current policy requires officers to activate their cameras when they expect to be taking an enforcement-related action. Kingsbury said he would likely oppose legislation mandating that body cameras be on at all times, saying it would be silly to require them to be on at times such as when officers are going about their business in the police station and that having to keep so much footage could create storage issues.
Also, Kingsbury said, lawmakers may need to make changes to public records law as it relates to releasing body camera footage.
Rep. Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, said concerns about public access to camera footage could likely be addressed with some minor changes to the state’s public records law, which already contains an exemption for investigatory records.
“I think a very modest tweaking of the statute may be adequate,” he said.
Also in 2017, lawmakers will debate whether to renew the “surplus eliminator.” Passed as part of a transportation funding deal at the end of the 2015 session, this commits some surplus state revenues to road maintenance, and it is set to expire this year.
“We’re going to need all the help we can get to get that in a renewal,” said Sen. Bert Brackett, R-Rogerson, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, who said he favors a formula that would give some of the money to local highway districts.
City Manager Travis Rothweiler started the meeting with a general presentation on the bigger things the city has been up to, briefly going over the city’s valuation, budget and property tax levels (the city has the largest “foregone balance” in the region as a result of not always taken the full 3 percent yearly property tax hike that is legally allowed), talking about growth in recent years, hitting highlights such as the Main Avenue reconstruction and the new City Hall that’s being built, and going over a few of the challenges facing the city.
Rothweiler also made a pitch for allowing the city to levy a local option sales tax, which currently only resort cities in Idaho can do. The idea of letting more cities levy a local option tax hasn’t gone anywhere in the Legislature in the past, and several lawmakers have told the Times-News they doubt it will come up this year and, if it does, it likely won’t pass. Conservative lawmakers from more rural districts tend to oppose the idea, especially because their constituents would likely end up paying an extra tax when they shop in town but don’t live in the community and so wouldn’t be voting on it.
Rothweiler said he hopes lawmakers continue to discuss the issue in upcoming years, and that he hopes something is passed like what Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, proposed a couple of years ago to let cities collect a local option tax and spend the money on specific projects. As the regional retail hub, he said, Twin Falls has to spend money on infrastructure and public safety to service the tens of thousands of people who don’t live in Twin Falls but come into town every day.
“We have to build a police force to support a community of 75,000 people,” he said.