Idaho House OKs resolution to end Gov. Little’s coronavirus emergency declaration
Ruth Brown, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Lawmakers debated for two hours on Tuesday morning about whether they should move forward with a concurrent resolution that they said would eliminate the governor’s emergency declaration regarding the coronavirus pandemic.
Debate in the Idaho House of Representatives revolved around Rep. Steven Harris’ House Concurrent Resolution 1, which would end Gov. Brad Little’s disaster declaration first imposed months ago.
Supporters of the resolution argued that Little exercised overreach by continuing to extend the declaration. Opponents of the resolution outlined that if the disaster declaration ended, Idaho would no longer be eligible for some needed FEMA funding. FEMA has paid for things such as personal protective equipment used by hospitals and long-term care facilities.
Ultimately, the concurrent resolution passed with a 48-20 vote, with two members absent. It still must be approved by the Senate.
There also was disagreement about whether the legislators even had the right to debate ending Little’s declaration because it was not included in the governor’s proclamation calling the Legislature into special session. Article IV, Section 9, of the Idaho Constitution states clearly that “when so convened it (the Legislature) shall have no power to legislate on any subjects other than those specified in the proclamation.”
“I just feel that we are taking up something that we’re not constitutionally authorized to take up,” said Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell.
Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, said he thought the subject matter of the resolution did fall within the bounds of the governor’s special session proclamation.
Harris, R-Meridian, argued that the disaster declaration has had an emotional, financial and mental impact on residents.
“The main objection of course was to ensure hospitals weren’t overrun,” Harris said about the governor’s declaration. “It turns out in Idaho we’ve never even come close.”
Harris’ statement was not true, as the both the Nampa and Meridian St. Luke’s ICUs have previously reported reaching or nearing capacity because of the coronavirus.
Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, supported lifting the governor’s declaration, largely saying he doesn’t believe coronavirus is an emergency.
“This declaration should have been done two months ago,” Barbieri said prior to the vote.
He went on to claim that masks are only a “political statement” and have no value. That statement is false, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as multiple local health professionals, have repeatedly said that masks can help prevent transmission.
At one point, Barbieri actually claimed that hospitals are inflating COVID-19 numbers to get more federal funding. “Hospitals are making up the statistics,” he said.
Hospital officials from St. Luke’s and Saint Alphonsus Health Systems refuted the statement later Tuesday. No evidence exists that health care systems have lied about COVID-19 admissions or numbers.
Other lawmakers, including Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, expressed concern about how removing the governor’s emergency declaration could affect FEMA funding.
“We may think and we may hope and we may wish this virus away, but it’s not going away,” Green said prior to the vote.
Green noted that FEMA funding is used not only for the pandemic, but also for issues such as fires and floods.
“In coming months, we do not know what this is going to throw our way,” she said. “We have an obligation to provide for our communities.”
Republican Rep. Laurie Lickley, of Jerome, was also concerned about access to FEMA funding. “The financial impact is not acceptable,” Lickley said prior to her no vote.
House Speaker Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, supported the concurrent resolution. “It should be improper to extend a disaster declaration ad infinitum,” Bedke said prior to his yes vote.
Bedke felt the Legislature should be involved in decisions about continuing to extend declarations and argued that Little hadn’t involved them.
“The legislative branch lacks the tools, the government lacks the tools to act in a balanced way in a crisis,” Bedke said from the floor.
The House State Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would allow county clerks to open absentee ballots seven days before Election Day, to start verifying signatures and scanning ballots. But the county clerks would not count the votes until Election Day in November.
A second bill that would have allowed for voting centers in November failed to make it past the House State Affairs panel on Tuesday. The committee voted 10-5 to hold the bill.
County clerks supported the bill because they are concerned about being able to get enough volunteers to the work the polls in November. As a possible solution, the legislation would have allowed voters to go to any voting center in-person, requiring fewer poll workers.
JUDICIARY, RULES AND ADMINISTRATION COMMITTEE
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee was disrupted on Tuesday afternoon when members of the public — at least some apparently part of the anti-vaccination advocacy group Health Freedom Idaho — refused to move out of press corps seats.
The Lincoln Auditorium has a desk with a few seats for the Capitol Correspondents. The seats are for properly credentialed media members only, and when people who are not credentialed were asked to leave, the meeting was disrupted.
— Nathan Brown (@NateBrownNews) August 25, 2020
Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, rescheduled the meeting for 4 p.m. Tuesday, and Idaho State Police troopers were called in to make sure the crowd did not become unruly.
When the meeting finally began, a heavy ISP presence was held outside the door.
Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, pitched the Limited Liability Act, which would prevent businesses and schools from being held liable if a person contracts coronavirus on their property or at their event.
“My purpose in drafting this bill was not to provide an enforcement mechanism,” Young said.
It also is not intended to give someone “an out” for willful or reckless behavior, she said. Largely, to be found liable for someone contracting coronavirus, a business or person must be out of compliance with public health orders and/or be behaving willfully or recklessly.
The hearing Tuesday was only a print hearing. A full hearing will be scheduled and involve public testimony at a later date.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said she felt as if Young’s bill was too broad.
“The citizen doesn’t have a venue to plead for their case of harm,” Wintrow said. “… We have some of the most conservative laws in the land for preventing frivolous lawsuits.”
Wintrow and Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, were recorded as voting against introducing Young’s bill.