BOISE — Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would end Idaho’s COVID-19 emergency declaration, which Gov. Brad Little says could jeopardize precious federal resources.
On Tuesday, the Senate State Affairs Committee approved a concurrent resolution that aims to end the COVID-19 emergency order Little declared last year in response to the pandemic.
Little declared a state of emergency on March 13, 2020, that remains in effect today. This emergency declaration made the state eligible to receive federal resources to aid in Idaho’s pandemic response.
However, while the resolution would end this order, it includes a paragraph that states it does not prevent Idaho from receiving federal funds to assist in the state’s pandemic response. It’s unclear how this would work.
If approved by the Senate, the resolution will move to the House. The resolution doesn’t require Little’s signature to take effect.
Similar bills reversing decisions Little made in response to the pandemic have been introduced in the House, including one that would end the governor’s order prohibiting the gathering of groups of more than 10 people.
Little responded to the Legislature’s attempts to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration in a speech to Idahoans on Friday. He said lawmakers’ are wrong in claiming that the emergency order somehow infringes on people’s rights or requires the closures of places, such as schools or businesses.
Little said that if lawmakers successful in their attempts to end the order, the state would lose out on federal assistance that has been crucial to the state’s pandemic response and will remain vital with Idaho’s vaccine rollout.
In addition to allowing the state to receive federal funds, the emergency declaration allows the Idaho National Guard to respond to domestic emergencies that last longer than 72 hours. Guard personnel throughout the state are helping with COVID-19 testing and vaccinations.
Little urged legislators to stop pursuing bills aimed at ending the emergency declaration, and asked Idahoans to reach out to their representatives to do the same.
“We are in the final lap of the pandemic fight, the finish line is close,” Little said. “All that success is threatened by the actions taking place in the Legislature right now.”
On Thursday, the House passed House Joint Resolution 1, which proposes to amend the state constitution to provide the Legislature with the authority to reconvene itself for a special session. Currently, only the state’s governor has the power to call legislators back to Boise for further business after the regular session ends in March.
Lawmakers in favor of this resolution say the Legislature should have been involved with some of the decisions Gov. Brad Little made last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as how the state used $1.25 billion it received from the federal government in assistance. Under this proposal, the Legislature would be able to reconvene for a special session if 60% of both the House and Senate vote in favor of doing so.
The legislation passed through the House in a 51-18 vote and now goes to the Senate, where it’ll require another two-third vote to continue. If a supermajority in the Senate approves the proposed constitutional amendment, it’ll go before voters in the November 2022 election for a final decision.
This resolution is one of many pieces of legislation that have been introduced so far in response to decisions Little made during the pandemic.
A lawmaker introduced a bill on Wednesday that would prohibit any public funds from going toward abortion services, the Idaho Statesman reported.
Rep. Bruce Skaug, R-Nampa, introduced the legislation that would prohibit all levels of government — including cities, counties, school districts and public health districts — from contracting or participating in commercial transactions with abortion providers. House Bill 17 also prohibits any public employees and organizations from someone on abortion or referring them to abortion services.
The bill has been referred to the House State Affairs Committee. The House passed a similar bill last year, but it never reached the Senate floor for a vote.
The introduction of this bill comes during the same week a pro-life rally took place in Twin Falls. After the rally, Pastor Paul Thompson of Eastside Baptist Church presented the City Council with an anti-abortion proclamation, that the council declined to vote on. However, three members of the council said they would sign onto the proclamation.
Arguments continue on remote voting
At the beginning of the week, the Idaho House Republican Caucus issued a statement accusing Democratic lawmakers in the House of using a disagreement between the parties over safety precautions at the Capitol as a fundraising opportunity.
On Jan. 15, Rep. Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, introduced a motion in the House requesting that she and other members be allowed to vote on bills remotely this session. The House rejected this motion in a 49-11 vote.
Davis is a paraplegic, whose condition compromises her lung function. Davis and another representative have also filed a lawsuit against the Legislature and Speaker of the House Scott Bedke seeking the ability to participate in the session remotely.
On Monday, the Idaho House Republican Caucus claimed the motion Davis introduced was done for political purposes.
“In light of recent events, it has become clear that the minority has no interest in problem solving and would prefer instead to take advantage of the situation of their own manufacture,” Bedke said in the statement.
The Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus responded in a statement, in which it called Republicans’ assertion that the motion was introduced for fundraising purposes “ridiculous.”
“The motion brought the narrowest possible request for relief, applying only to a handful of legislators, on a temporary basis during this session only,” the statement reads.
In their statements, both caucuses said they are working to reach a compromise in this situation.