After being largely cut out of the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Idaho lawmakers will consider a variety of changes to the state’s emergency procedures during next year’s legislative session.
In a news release announcing the move, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said the past few months “have taught us a hard lesson: Idaho’s laws dealing with the unprecedented conditions created by the COVID-19 virus are inadequate.”
Bedke, together with Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said joint legislative working groups will provide recommendations next session on six main issues:
Election dates and processes.
Limits and procedures for the appropriation of “non-cognizable” or non-state funds (such as the $1.25 billion in coronavirus emergency funding Idaho received from the federal government).
The duration of and powers conferred by any state emergency declaration.
A potential constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to convene a special session.
Limitations on liability for schools, businesses and other entities during a health crisis.
Statutory flexibility for public schools to deal with possible financial holdbacks.
“This potential legislation would ensure that the people of Idaho have a say, through their duly-elected senators and representatives, in how the state is run during trying times,” Hill said.
The announcement comes a week after a small group of Republican lawmakers met at the Statehouse, in what was initially billed as a special session.
The lawmakers — who included Rep. Mike Kingsley, of Lewiston, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, of White Bird, and Rep. Paul Shepherd, of Riggins — didn’t try to pass any legislation. The meeting largely ended up as a gripe session, where the representatives voiced concerns about the governor’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the Legislature’s negligible role in the decision-making process.
In the news release, Hill and Bedke said the intent of any constitutional amendments and legislation next year will be to “ensure that the people of Idaho aren’t silenced, preserve the checks and balances set out by our forefathers and protect against overreach by the executive branch.”