BOISE — A Senate panel on Wednesday introduced legislation to set an end date for Idaho legislative sessions, a bill that has been tried before but comes in the wake of last year’s record-long session.
The Senate State Affairs Committee voted to hold a potential hearing on the bill that would set the last Friday in March for lawmakers to wrap up business.
The bill has three exceptions. The first is if lawmakers want to wait out a five-day deadline for a governor’s possible veto. The second is if the governor has declared a state of disaster. Finally, the Legislature could remain in session if two-thirds of the members in each the House and Senate agree.
A similar bill last year passed the Senate but never got a hearing in the House. Republican Sen. Jim Guthrie said the most recent version contains the disaster declaration exception to alleviate concerns of some House members.
“The one that I have added is if the state were under a declared state of emergency or disaster by the governor,” Guthrie told lawmakers on the committee, of which he is a member. “I think that will help mitigate some of the concerns that were part of the topic of discussion last year.”
Republican lawmakers, especially in the House, were angered in the spring of 2020 when Republican Gov. Brad Little declared an emergency due to the coronavirus pandemic and issued a temporary stay-at-home order.
Last year’s session lasted 311 days, breaking the previous record of 118 days.
Typically, the part-time Idaho Legislature meets for about three months starting in January. But the 2021 session stretched into May and included a two-week recess due to a COVID-19 outbreak among lawmakers in the House. It also included a five-month break so the House could return at its own choosing without having to rely on Little to call a special session.
Once the Legislature formally adjourns, they can only be called back to Boise by a governor.
Idaho voters in November will decide whether to amend the Idaho Constitution to allow lawmakers to call themselves back into session without needing a governor’s help.
If voters approve with a simple majority, the Legislature could call itself back into session if 60% of lawmakers in each the House and Senate agree. The special session would be limited to specific topics agreed to by lawmakers before the special sessions.
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