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Legislative review: House passes bill curbing governor's emergency powers
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Legislative review

Legislative review: House passes bill curbing governor's emergency powers

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State of the State address goes virtual

People hold American flags Monday, Jan. 11, 2021, outside the Capitol building in Boise. Governor Brad Little gave his State of the State address later that afternoon virtually.

BOISE — The House passed a bill Tuesday that would reduce the governor’s powers during an emergency, while increasing the Legislature’s authority during events such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

House Bill 135, which legislators approved with a 49-20 vote, aims to rectify some of the issues lawmakers say were exposed during the last when Gov. Brad Little made decisions while trying to navigate the pandemic without the Legislature’s input.

These include decisions such as Gov. Brad Little’s temporary stay-at-home order after issuing an emergency declaration. Lawmakers have also said the Legislature should have had a say in how the state spent more than $1 billion in received from the federal government in pandemic aid.

This bill would give the Legislature the authority to weigh in on certain emergency decisions. For example, the governor could still declare an emergency, but any restrictions tied to that order would expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature. Under existing law, the governor has sole power over issuing and renewing emergency declarations.

The legislation also states that a governor’s emergency order can’t restrict a person’s ability to go to work. Additionally, it states that the bill doesn’t hinder the governor’s ability to deploy the Idaho National Guard when responding to an emergency.

After passing the House, the bill was referred to the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Calling a special session

The Senate State Affairs Committee approved a constitutional amendment on Wednesday that would allow the Legislature call itself into a special session.

Similarly to House Bill 135, this legislation is part of lawmakers’ mission of rebalancing the state’s branches of government following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under existing law, only the state’s governor can call on lawmakers to return to Boise to take up additional issues after the regular legislative session ends in March.

House Joint Resolution 1 would allow lawmakers to call themselves back into session if more than 60% of the members of the House and Senate agree to do so. The legislation’s fiscal note estimates each day of special session would cost taxpayers $21,300.

Because its a proposed constitutional amendment, the legislation requires a two-thirds majority to pass, which it has already received in the House. In January representatives approved the resolution with a 51-18 vote.

After passing through the Senate State Affairs Committee, the legislation heads to the Senate for a full vote where it’ll again require a super majority to pass.

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If it receives that support, the proposed amendment will appear on the November 2022 ballot for voters to decide. It would only need a simply 50% majority at this point to take effect.

Ballot initiatives

On Friday, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved a bill that would make it more difficult for Idahoans to place initiatives and referendums on election ballots, according to the Associated Press.

Under existing law, Idahoans must gather 6% of registered voters in 18 of the state’s legislative districts within an 18-month period. The number of signatures also must equal or exceed 6% of all registered voters in the state.

Senate Bill 1110 would increase this threshold. Instead, Idahoans would have to gather signatures from 6% of registered voters in all 35 state legislative districts in 18 months.

After passing through the committee, the bill goes to the full Senate for a vote.

Wrongful conviction compensation

The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee approved legislation on Wednesday that would provide financial compensation for people wrongfully convicted of crimes in Idaho.

Senate Bill 1027 would provide people innocent people who are exonerated and released from prison with $62,000 for each year they served behind bars. For people who spent time on death row, this number is increased to $75,000 for each year.

The bill unanimously passed through the Senate earlier this month. After making it through committee, the bill will go to the House for a full vote before ending up on Little’s desk.

The Legislature approved a similar bill last year that was then vetoed by Little, leaving Idaho as one of 15 states in the country that doesn’t compensate people who are wrongly convicted of crimes and sentenced to prison.

Rental assistance

On Friday, the House approved $175 million in emergency rental assistance for people struggling to pay rent during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding is part of the roughly $900 million the state received from the COVID-19 relief bill Congress passed and former President Donald Trump signed into law late last year.

The money will go to the Idaho Housing and Finance Association, who will then distribute it to eligible recipients. This includes landlords, apartment owners and property managers rather than individual renters.

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