BOISE, Idaho – Legislation that curbs Republican Gov. Brad Little’s authority during declared emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic is headed to the governor’s desk.
The Senate on Wednesday voted 28-7 to pass the bill that’s a reworked version of previous legislation Little vetoed. Shortly after, the House passed the bill on a 48-8 vote.
The earlier version of the bill was vetoed by Little and the Senate was unable to overcome the veto. But Senate leaders said Little worked with them on the latest measure, and they anticipate his approval.
The watered-down version of the measure is intended for states of “extreme emergency,” and replaces an entire section of Idaho law having to do with emergency declarations. It limits an Idaho governor’s ability to alter laws, take away gun rights, prevent religious and other gatherings, and limit people from going to work during emergencies.
The bill also lists enemy attacks and insurrections as extreme emergencies. Certain provisions kick in if more than 12 counties are involved, which would include the coronavirus pandemic. Emergencies lasting longer than 90 days would require the involvement of the Legislature. Currently, a governor can renew emergency declarations every 30 days without the Legislature.
Lawmakers are angry at actions Little took last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic that included a temporary stay-home order as COVID-19 patients threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Some workers, such as in other states, were declared “nonessential,” a term that angered lawmakers.
“In my own experience, in watching the way the pandemic in Idaho played out, it was obvious to me that we can do better,” said Republican Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon. “It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback some of this stuff, but the fact of the matter is we’re given an opportunity to make improvements to code so that future Idahoans, future leaders of this state, will have better tools.”
Three other bills having to do with the governor’s authority during emergency declarations also headed to Little on Wednesday after being approved by the Senate. Those bills involve more localized emergencies such as fires or floods. Combined, the three bills replace another bill Little vetoed that would have limited a governor’s emergency powers.
Little hasn’t said whether he would veto the measures.
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