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Idaho power struggle appears to tilt away from Legislature

Jan. 28, 2021 Updated Thu., Jan. 28, 2021 at 6:01 p.m.

The Idaho Senate gathers Jan. 15 in the Statehouse in Boise.  (Associated Press)
The Idaho Senate gathers Jan. 15 in the Statehouse in Boise. (Associated Press)
By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE — Attempts by the Republican-dominated Legislature to wrest power from GOP Gov. Brad Little when it comes to emergency declarations during a crisis like the coronavirus pandemic appeared to take a hit Thursday.

The Idaho attorney general’s office in an opinion requested by a lawmaker said a strategy by the Legislature to use concurrent resolutions that don’t require a governor’s signature to end a governor’s emergency declaration is not contained in the Idaho Constitution.

Such a resolution “cannot be considered to have legal effect other than stating the policy preference of the Legislature, or the chamber that has adopted it,” the document written by Assistant Chief Deputy Brian Kane states.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate have put forward four concurrent resolutions aiming to end Little’s coronavirus emergency and, they say, coronavirus restrictions. One of the concurrent resolutions was killed amid concerns it would have ended $20 million in federal aid based on Little’s emergency declaration.

Idaho lawmakers are trying to rein in some of the governor’s powers after Little declared an emergency in March and imposed health restrictions. They bristled at the pandemic rules, especially a lockdown and the designation of some people as “nonessential” workers.

Lawmakers also say they should have had a role in how to spend $1.25 billion in federal coronavirus relief money.

“The Legislature wants to avoid the executive branch by passing resolutions to avoid the check and balance of the veto process,” Democratic Rep. John Gannon, who requested the opinion from the attorney general’s office, said in a statement.

The appropriate process for the Legislature would be to pass a bill that would require the governor’s signature, overriding a possible veto with a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate, Gannon said.

Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder didn’t respond to a text message from The Associated Press.

Lawmakers also appear to have confused emergency declarations with health orders in some of the concurrent resolutions aimed at ending restrictions contained in the health orders. The two actions are found in separate areas of Idaho law.

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and Bruce Newcomb, former speakers of the Idaho House, on Wednesday blasted the Legislature and the concurrent resolutions, specifically noting that the COVID-19 emergency declarations are wholly separate from the public health orders.

Marissa Morrison, Little’s spokeswoman, said the governor’s office had no comment about the Attorney General’s opinion.

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