BOISE — Idaho lawmakers hesitant to leave the governor in charge of pandemic decisions after the legislative session are delaying their adjournment, a move that analysists say could cause a government shutdown by threatening the start date of some 200 pieces of legislation.
A measure intended to change the effective date of the legislation should be amended to avoid a potential government shutdown starting in June, a legal analysis has determined. The Idaho attorney general’s office sent the analysis Thursday to the Idaho Legislative Services Office, a nonpartisan government entity that supports state lawmakers.
The document obtained by The Associated Press said the legislation as written could pass a court challenge, but the consequences for failing could be severe.
The 200 bills include 65 critical appropriations bills. They would typically not take effect until at least 60 days after the Legislature adjourns. But the Legislature still being in session pushes their effective date past the start of the new fiscal year, starting July 1.
If the bill is found unconstitutional and the Legislature doesn’t conclude the session by Saturday, “some 200 bills, including appropriations bills to fund parts of state government, would not take effect on July 1, 2021,” wrote Chief Deputy Brian Kane.
He wrote that means “there could be funding issues for parts of state government as early as June 12.”
Little’s budget chief, Alex Adams, has previously said that state workers’ pay starting in mid-June comes from the fiscal year starting July 1, meaning budget bills need to be in effect by then for state workers to get paid.
The part-time Legislature, which typically operates January through March, refuses to adjourn out of concern it would be left out of coronavirus pandemic decisions like last year when Republican Gov. Brad Little exercised his executive authority to act during the declared emergency caused by the pandemic.
GOP lawmakers are angry that Little issued a stay-at-home order as COVID-19 patients threatened to overwhelm hospitals. Lawmakers also say they should have taken part in spending the $1.25 billion of coronavirus relief money.
As a result, lawmakers this year have put forward legislation to extend the session until Sept. 1, though lawmakers could temporarily recess during that time and call themselves back when needed.
In addition, they have also proposed a measure to add an emergency clause to any bills that lack one to have them take effect July 1 if the Legislature is still in session in early May. It is that measure, House bill 376, that is the focus of the Idaho attorney general’s office analysis.
Citing various aspects of the Idaho Constitution and court precedent dating back to 1906, Kane in the six-page analysis said lawmakers will likely need to draft a new bill to replace House bill 376 that, instead of being a blanket statement to cover all 200 bills, explicitly lists each bill to be amended with the emergency clause to give them a July 1 effective date.
“A new bill must be passed that includes a clear reference to each of the acts whose effective date is to be changed,” Kane wrote.
The Legislature operated under similar legislation in 2003 and 2009 when sessions for various reasons extended into early May. But there were no legal challenges at the time. This year, a recently-formed group of attorneys concerned about what they say is a disregard for the Idaho Constitution by the current Legislature has questioned the legality of the blanket legislation changing the effective dates of the 200 bills.
Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke didn’t respond to a request for comment from the AP on Friday.
House members took Friday off after being consumed on Thursday with an ethics committee meeting concerning a lawmaker accused of raping an intern. The lawmaker, who hasn’t been charged with a crime, resigned after the committee voted to suspend him without pay and announced it would support a motion on the House floor to expel him from the chamber.
The Senate met briefly Friday morning after taking off the previous three days.