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On 100th day of Idaho Legislature, is there an end in sight? Not really.

UPDATED: Tue., April 20, 2021

By Hayat Norimine Idaho Statesman

On the 100th day of Idaho’s legislative session, senators reintroduced a wolf-killing bill. House members debated over, but didn’t approve, cutting half a vacant position in the lieutenant governor’s office. And they passed a measure that would allow legislators to call themselves into a special session. They have yet to introduce critical education funding they must pass this year.

This year’s session is Idaho’s third-longest in history. And as the session nears a record-breaking length of 118 days, lawmakers are still at a stalemate over failed bills they will not give up on. That includes bills curbing the governor’s emergency powers.

Gov. Brad Little has said he plans to veto two bills that would curb the governor’s emergency powers. One failed to garner enough support in the Senate this week after his veto. That doesn’t bode well for the second bill, which passed in the Senate by a thinner margin.

But House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R- Meridian, said House Republican leaders will not want the Legislature to recess until it can successfully pass laws curbing the governor’s emergency powers. It was their top priority since day one, he said.

“We’ll stay here until we come up with a solution,” Monks said by phone Monday. ” The House will not adjourn until we come up with a solution on that.”

But after the governor’s stated plans to veto, Republican leaders are losing support and may face a more challenging battle ahead to pass the bills.

This session has already run much longer than usual. The average legislative session is about 82 days, dating back to sessions since 1994. And several budget bills — including the lieutenant governor’s appropriation bill and education funding bills — remain on the list of measures that still need approval from the House.

Senators recessed for three days last week, waiting for more bills to make it to their floor as they waited for the House.

“I think there’s a silent majority out there that is ready for us to be done,” Rep. Scott Syme, R- Caldwell, told the Statesman on Tuesday. “They very seldom raise their voice, but I think we’re going to start hearing from them the longer we’re here.”

Critics say increasing powers could lead to full-time Idaho Legislature

Now, it’s up the voters in the 2022 general election to decide whether to allow the Idaho Legislature the ability to call itself into a special session.

House members on Tuesday in a 54-15 vote approved a constitutional amendment that would require approval from 60% of members in each chamber to start a special session without the governor.

The petition signed by the members must specify the reason for the session, and the session would start no later than 15 days after the House speaker and Senate president pro tem receive the petition.

Critics of the measure said it would prompt more involvement from the Idaho Legislature on every level of government. They said they believed it could lead to lawmakers being full-time at the Capitol.

“I did not sign up for this, being a full-time legislature,” said Rep. Colin Nash, D- Boise, on the House floor Tuesday. “I would like to get out of here, and I would like to not come back until next January.”

Republican leaders have insisted they have no interest in being full time. Monks said he believes the constitutional amendment and emergency powers bills would allow lawmakers to remain part time, knowing they have the power to return to the Capitol if they so choose or if an emergency occurs.

“Without these bills passed, I think it forces us to be closer to a full-time legislature,” Monks said. “If we don’t have the ability to call ourselves back in, why on Earth would we ever adjourn?”

Jim Jones, a former Idaho attorney general and retired Idaho Supreme Court justice, said he believes legislators are trying to concentrate as much power as they can in the Legislature.

“When I was attorney general, I saw what appeared to be an unsavory tendency on the part of the Legislature to try to grab every ounce of state power that they could get,” said Jones, a Republican. “It’s gotten much, much worse.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R- Oakley, and Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R- Boise, couldn’t be reached by phone Tuesday.

Idaho lawmakers could reintroduce emergency powers bills

An Idaho bill to curb the governor’s emergency powers died in the Senate this week after the governor vetoed it on Saturday. Little has until Saturday to veto a second emergency powers bill, which would require the Legislature to approve extensions of declarations beyond 60 days.

“These bills are an emotional kneejerk reaction because of anger about the pandemic and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year,” Little said during a broadcast last week.

But Monks said legislative leaders will want to reintroduce new bills.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R- Burley, said on the floor Monday that involving legislators in disaster restrictions allows government to be “responsive and representative” of the public.

“We don’t believe as Idahoans that any one individual should have unlimited power, whether there’s an emergency or not,” Anthon said.

While senators failed to override the governor’s veto on the bill, ” Idaho Senate Republicans remain committed to our constituents and working to protect Idahoans’ rights,” Senate Republican leaders said in a statement Tuesday.

“Although the governor’s unwillingness to compromise or listen to the will of Idahoans has made the critical tasks more challenging, we continue to focus on the work ahead,” they said.

The bill outlines a set of definitions on emergencies for when martial law is enacted. Little vetoed the bill on Saturday and said he would also veto a second bill, which would require the Idaho Legislature to extend any disaster declarations beyond 60 days.

But Senate Republican leaders on Monday lost the support they needed for the bill by one vote. Five senators who initially supported the bill switched to “no” votes on Monday after the governor’s veto.

Sen. Patti Anne Lodge, R-Huston, said she heard Little and former governors, whom she respected, and decided to switch her vote.

“After listening to them, I just felt that we needed to protect the governor’s ability to protect the people when they are placed in harm’s way, and that both those bills did not give that protection to the people,” Lodge said.

Sens. Jim Guthrie, Jim Patrick, Jim Woodward and Fred Martin were the others who switched their votes. Guthrie and Patrick didn’t respond to phone calls Monday. Martin declined to comment.

Sen. Jim Woodward, R- Sagle, said there were too many unknowns on what the bills would do. The existing Idaho code “has served us well since 1927,” he wrote, and he trusts the opinions he gathered from the Idaho National Guard generals and emergency officials who had concerns.

“Just as folks were frustrated this year to find that Idaho law allows some of the actions that were taken during the pandemic response, we could find ourselves in a worse predicament with a new section of code,” Woodward wrote in a statement. “I believe our current law will continue to work until we come to widespread agreement on any changes.”

Lodge’s “no” vote on the second emergency powers bill would be nearly enough to kill the measure in the Senate. Senators initially supported it with 25 votes in favor, including Lodge. They would need 24 votes to override a veto.

Lodge said the session will continue to cost taxpayers at least $30,000 a day. “Cooler heads,” she said, and giving bills more time — maybe taking up those bills next year — often leads to better policymaking.

“This session has gone on way too long,” Lodge told the Statesman on Tuesday. Continuing to try to pass failed bills shows her no determination to work with the governor and find a consensus, she added. “It sounds like something that I don’t want to be involved in.”

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