Despite what some in the Idaho Legislature might think, we are still in the middle of a global pandemic. Now is not the time to be making decisions without careful consideration of the possible long-term consequences, but that’s what happens when short-sighted legislation is proposed.
I think we should use the pandemic to review our policies on handling emergencies, and I welcome reasoned discussions with good data when we are finally out of harm’s way — and only then. We will have plenty of time in future sessions to make these changes.
We should utilize the interim committees over the next year to review best practices and take public comment on: special sessions of the Legislature, public health emergencies and authorities along with disaster emergencies. Once the necessary information is gathered, we then can act accordingly — and responsibly — in the 2022 regular session.
We have three sets of laws to deal with health emergencies which are all rarely used, making it confusing to understand and apply. Relying on local action is not always an effective way to introduce public health orders (mask mandates for example). The virus did not strike the entire state at the same time, but in the end, all counties have been affected, with some of the higher rates in very rural counties. Our county commissioners, who are on most of the public health boards, are usually smart and wise elected officials; however, we need to make sure they are provided with and suitably consider the best advice from our health experts.
The Idaho Legislature should be able to call itself back into special session. Idaho is one of 14 states that can only be called into special session by the governor; the other 34 can be called either by the governor or the legislature. But we need these necessary safeguards in place for calling a session:
Require two-thirds of both the Senate and House to agree. If the governor will not call us in, anything passed would have to probably override his veto. We should have that same standard for a special session, so we don’t waste time and money.
In fairness to our citizens, the topics to consider should be limited. Special sessions will come up with little notice, and our citizens need time to understand the issues being considered by their legislators.
Limit to some number of days annually. No one wants a full-time Idaho legislature, and limiting the time we can be in special sessions between our regular session is important. It costs north of $30,000 per day for the legislature to meet.
Once the pandemic is over, the legislature should thoroughly consider how state and local government worked during this crisis. Let’s provide opportunity for public input and then make those changes. But this year, let’s not rush it. Let’s keep our focus on working to help all Idahoans to get through the pandemic safely and our kids back to school learning.
And let’s not make the governor’s job harder. The legislature is playing politics with the governor now, and I don’t approve. He’s not of my political party and he hasn’t done many things I would have, but he has done a good job. His focus is on the people of Idaho, not political power. I support his actions, and I wish his legislative partners would as well.
Sen. David Nelson, D-Moscow, is serving in his second term as an Idaho state senator.