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Legislative review: Lawmakers vote on emergency powers bills governor vetoed
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Legislative review

Legislative review: Lawmakers vote on emergency powers bills governor vetoed

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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 — Idaho voters will have the chance to decide whether the Legislature is able to call for a special session following a vote by the House this week.

Lawmakers in the House approved a proposed constitutional amendment Tuesday with a 54-15 vote, clearing the two-thirds majority needed to move the proposal forward. The measure has already passed through the Senate.

Currently, Idaho’s part-time Legislature usually meets from January through March unless the governor calls for lawmakers to stay in Boise for a special session. According to the Associated Press, Idaho is only one of 14 states where the governor has the sole power to call a special session.

This legislation would allow lawmakers to call for a special session if 60% of the Legislature agrees to return to Boise. The session would be limited to specific topics that lawmakers would have to identify prior to the session. According to the legislation’s fiscal note, legislative expenses for each day of the special session are estimated to cost $21,300.

This proposal was one of high priority for the Republican-led Legislature after some lawmakers raised concerns about the restrictions and decisions Gov. Brad Little implemented without input from the Legislature during the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, lawmakers have said they should have had a say in how the state spent the $1.25 billion it received in federal aid last year in response to the pandemic.

Joint resolutions, such as this proposal, only need to pass through the House and Senate before heading to voters. They do not require the governor’s signature. Voters will weigh in on the amendment in the November 2022 election, where only a simple majority is needed to pass the measure.

In a related move, lawmakers introduced a resolution in the House Ways and Means Committee Friday that would allow the Legislature to go into recess for an extended period of time without adjourning this session.

According to the Associated Press, the measure would allow the leaders of both the House and Senate to call the lawmakers back to Boise by Sept. 1 to deal with the pandemic and other issues. If the Legislature were to adjourned like normal, lawmakers could only return to the Capitol for further business if Little calls a special session.

Lawmakers vote on vetoed bills

Last week Little announced his intentions to veto two bills the Legislature passed aimed at restricting some of the governor’s powers during emergencies, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. This week the House voted to override one of the vetoes, while the Senate failed to do so with the other.

The legislation, House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136, maintains the governor’s authority to declare an emergency, but that declaration would expire after 60 days unless extended by the Legislature. The bills also require any restrictions connected to an emergency declaration to expire after 60 days unless otherwise approved by lawmakers.

Supporters of the bill say it balances the power between the state’s executive and legislative branches. They say an existing imbalance became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic when Little made many decisions without the Legislature’s input.

Meanwhile, Little said these bills violate the state Constitution, which prohibits the Legislature from performing executive duties.

“Declaring and responding to emergencies are core executive functions defined by the Idaho Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and rightly so,” Little said in a statement last week. “The executive branch has the resources and can tap subject matter experts in emergency response to quickly and effectively deploy resources in fast-moving situations.”

The House successfully voted to override Little’s veto of House Bill 135 with a 48-19 vote. The bill now heads to the Senate, which also must override the veto with a two-thirds majority. The likelihood of this happening is unclear after the Senate failed to reach that threshold for Senate Bill 1136. The override failed on a 23-12 vote.

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Restricting abortion

Legislation that would severely restrict a woman’s ability to have an abortion in Idaho is heading to the governor’s desk.

House Bill 366, which is an updated version of a bill the Senate previously passed, would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. This can happen as early as five or six weeks after conception.

The legislation includes exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, as well as in situations of medical emergencies. However, to quality for these exceptions the act of rape or incest must be reported to a law enforcement agency. A copy of the report must then be given to the physician who is performing the abortion.

During the debate on a previous version of this bill, Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, raised concerns about this aspect of the bills. She said many sexual assaults or incidences of rape go unreported to the police for myriad of reasons.

Even if a woman were to report the rape or sexual assault to the police, actually obtaining the report to present it to a physician would not be an easy process, Wintrow said. It is difficult to obtain reports during active investigations.

“If you have never known anybody to experience a rape and have to face those decisions and then to think about having to jump through all these hoops to get an abortion when you’re already traumatized — it’s too much,” Wintrow said.

Other states in the U.S. have passed similar bills banning abortions at the moment a heartbeat can be detected, but they have been shot down in the court system. Senate Bill 1183 includes a provision that would allow it to take effect if any U.S. appellate court upholds one of these other states’ laws.

The House passed this latest version of this bill with a 53-16 vote on April 16. The Senate passed the legislation with 25-7 vote Wednesday. The legislation was sent to the governor for his signature on Friday.

Expanding wolf killing

A bill that would would allow the killing of up to 90% of Idaho’s wolf population is quickly working its way through the Legislature.

The Senate State Affairs Committee passed Senate Bill 1211 Wednesday. The bill passed through the Senate with a 26-7 vote the same day. The House Resources and Conservation Committee moved the bill forward again Thursday.

According to the Associated Press, the bill would allow the state to hire private contractors to reduce the state’s wolf population from about 1,500 down to 150. A wolf management plan established in 2002 calls for the state to maintain at least 150 wolves and 15 packs in Idaho.

Supporters of the bill say the measure is needed because there are too many wolves in the state, leading to attacks on cattle and sheep costing ranchers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In February, the Idaho Department of Fish and Game reported the state’s wolf population has remained around 1,500 over the past two years. This is despite hunters, trappers and state and federal authorities killing about 500 wolves in each of the last two years, the Associated Press reported.

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

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