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Rep. Simpson blasts efforts to end COVID-19 emergency, limit governor powers


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U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho. | file photo

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) – Eastern Idaho’s U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson and former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb on Wednesday lent Gov. Brad Little support in his COVID-19 emergency declaration, condemning state legislators’ efforts to limit the governor’s powers as “political jockeying” that has spread misinformation and, if successful, would endanger lives.

Simpson, also a former Idaho House speaker, and Newcomb sent a strongly worded joint statement and urged lawmakers to stop “reckless and careless” efforts to end the COVID-19 declaration and limit the governor’s ability to respond to an emergency.

“A crisis is not the time to dismantle the governor’s ability to respond quickly during an emergency. A crisis is the time to lead,” Simpson and Newcomb wrote in a statement sent to the media.

Ending the declaration would be separate from the public health orders, they pointed out. They said the legislators’ efforts would weaken future responses to emergencies, and that an executive needs the ability to respond quickly — whether it’s during a pandemic or a natural disaster.

RELATED | Little condemns Legislature’s efforts to end COVID-19 emergency order

State officials have said the removal of the emergency would jeopardize Idaho’s vaccine rollout and around $20 million in future federal funding to the state. That money excludes the amount local jurisdictions — such as public health districts, hospitals, cities and counties — have also relied on during the coronavirus pandemic.

The House and Senate both had votes scheduled Wednesday for pieces of legislation that would have stripped the governor of some of his emergency powers and ended the COVID-19 declaration. The resolution to end the emergency, sponsored by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, got sent back to a committee.

The House bill to limit the governor’s powers, sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Meridian, would have allowed legislators to change or end emergency declarations and automatically terminate emergencies after 30 days unless lawmakers choose to extend them. It was also delayed.

House Bill 16 would also place limitations on what constitutes an emergency. It would automatically terminate any emergency declarations that haven’t been reauthorized in the past 30 days, Monks told the Statesman on Wednesday. The governor would still issue the declaration under the bill.

Currently, the governor needs to reauthorize disaster declarations every 30 days, and the COVID-19 emergency has been reauthorized by the governor every month since its declaration on March 13 last year. But if this bill were to pass, legislators would need to approve another resolution to continue the emergency.

The House Republican Caucus, in a pamphlet released late Wednesday afternoon, denied trying to strip the governor of necessary executive powers and said leaders are “restoring the balance between branches.”

Simpson and Newcomb urged legislators to reconsider both limiting the governor’s emergency powers and rescinding the current COVID-19 disaster declaration.

“Take a step back and think this through,” they wrote. “The safety and prosperity of this generation and future generations of Idahoans depend on you.”

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