Idaho Senate kills House measure to end Little’s emergency declaration
Ruth Brown, Idaho Statesman
Published at | Updated at
(Idaho Statesman) – The Idaho Senate passed a resolution Wednesday that asks the governor to cautiously end the emergency declaration that was a response to the coronavirus pandemic, but unlike a House measure deemed unconstitutional, it does not try to mandate such a move.
The resolution pitched by Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, is different from House Concurrent Resolution 1, which the House passed on Tuesday. The House resolution would have ended Gov. Brad Little’s declaration, potentially jeopardizing some federal funding.
But Hill said that after review, the Senate determined lawmakers are allowed to do only what was in Little’s proclamation for the special session. Ending a disaster declaration was not in the proclamation, and Idaho code is clear, Hill said.
“The Senate has concluded that any action beyond the governor’s proclamation is unconstitutional,” Hill said.
Hill said he understands why lawmakers are limited in what they can do in a special session. Ultimately, the public needs to know ahead of time what bills are being introduced.
“(The restriction is) not for us and our time limits,” Hill said. “It’s for the citizens of the state of Idaho.”
Even if the Legislature could have ended Little’s disaster declaration, it would not affect restrictions put in place by public health districts, cities, counties and school districts. None of those restrictions are controlled by the governor’s declaration.
“Most of the orders that people are concerned about have nothing to do with the governor’s orders,” said Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett.
Instead, the Senate’s resolution is a declaration of things they are recommending that the governor do, as well as an outline of priorities for the 2021 session.
In the resolution, the Senate says it intends to look into a constitutional amendment to allow legislators to come into special session without the governor. In Idaho now, only the governor may call such a session.
The resolution also states that lawmakers will look at the governor’s spending authority and how long the governor may extend an emergency declaration. The resolution also states they hope to consider putting a prohibition on ordering a quarantine for healthy people, and hope to look at whether the governor can prohibit people from visiting a place of worship.
The resolution also states that all Idahoans who work, provide for families and pay taxes should be deemed “essential.” The statement is a jab at Little’s stay-home order in March, which outlined which professions could be deemed “nonessential” and which “essential” for work purposes during the pandemic’s shutdown.
The House Concurrent Resolution was tabled with no objections. It will not pass during the special session.
Hill said a potential loss of FEMA funding was a concern if the House resolution passed. “We would forfeit tens of millions of dollars that President Trump and Congress have set aside,” Hill said.
But the bigger issue all along was that there was no legal standing for House Concurrent Resolution 1. That was addressed by some members of the House on Tuesday, but majority Republicans passed it anyway.
“It goes beyond the authority of the special session,” Hill said. “Therefore, it’s unconstitutional.”