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Several coronavirus-related bills were introduced during the first week of Idaho's 2021 legislative session. Many aim to lift the current emergency declaration and curb the governor's powers moving forward.

The first week of Idaho’s 2021 legislative session brought a flurry of bills and resolutions seeking to curb the governor’s power and undo some of the COVID-19 safety measures that have been put in place.

Legislation introduced last week would restrict the governor’s authority during an emergency, prohibit the state from restricting Idahoans’ right to work, end the state of disaster emergency declared by Gov. Brad Little and let the Legislature call itself into a special session, among other measures.

Meanwhile, a resolution introduced by Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, on Thursday would undo limits on gatherings due to COVID-19, allowing an unlimited number of people to attend large events at schools and elsewhere.

Here’s what’s been proposed so far:

Senate bills

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to introduce three bills from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise.

Senate Bill 1001 would change the definition of “disaster” in the State Disaster Preparedness Act to exclude events that are “man-made” or that are “resulting from a hostile military or paramilitary action or an act of terrorism.” It also adds “epidemic” and “pandemic” to the list of examples of possible disasters.

SB 1001—along with Senate Bill 1002—additionally changes the definition of a “disaster emergency account,” which is currently defined as an account created to pay for expenses incurred during a state of emergency. The bill would define a disaster emergency account as an account created to pay for expenses “arising out of” a state of emergency—wording intended to allow the state to continue receiving federal aid after the emergency declaration has ended.

Senate Bill 1003, which restricts the authority of the governor during a state of emergency, states that rules and orders implemented by the governor “must not restrict the rights of Idahoans to work, provide for their families, or otherwise contribute to the economy of Idaho,” an apparent reference to the shelter-in-place order issued by Little in late March. The bill also limits a state of emergency to 30 days, unless the Legislature votes to extend it via concurrent resolution, and gives the Legislature the power to appropriate emergency funds or terminate a state of emergency in a regular or special session.

In addition, SB 1003 prohibits the governor or any government entity from restricting firearm possessions or sales and from limiting “the right to assemble for worship” during a state of emergency, and prohibits the governor from altering, adjusting or suspending any provision of Idaho code.

The bills will now have a full hearing in the Senate State Affairs Committee, which will then decide whether to send the bills to the Senate floor.

House bills

House Bill 1, introduced Wednesday by Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, mirrors some of the legislation introduced by Winder, ensuring Idahoans’ right to worship and work during a state of emergency, limiting an emergency disaster declaration to 30 days unless extended by the Legislature and prohibiting the governor from modifying or suspending state statute. Monks’ bill would also end the current emergency disaster declaration.

The bill will now have a full hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

House Bill 4, introduced Thursday by Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, deals with parental rights during a state of emergency, and states that an emergency disaster declaration cannot be considered “a compelling governmental interest sufficient to justify forced medical action, forced removal of a child from the home, or any other action that could abridge parental rights.”

That bill will now have a hearing in the House State Affairs Committee.

House Joint Resolution 1, a proposed constitutional amendment introduced last week by Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, would let the Legislature call itself into a special session with the approval of 60 percent of House and Senate members. Under Idaho’s current constitution, only the governor can call a special session.

To amend the Constitution, a measure must be approved by two-thirds of both legislative bodies and must be approved by a majority of Idaho voters.

The amendment was approved Monday by the House State Affairs Committee. It will now go to the full House for a vote.

House Concurrent Resolution 2, introduced Thursday by Crane, would lift the restriction on gatherings of 10 or more people that was included in the governor’s latest health order, issued Dec. 30. If passed, the resolution would render that section of the order void. On Monday, the House State Affairs Committee voted to advance the measure, sending the resolution to the House floor.

House and Senate concurrent resolutions

Two concurrent resolutions—both of which would terminate the state of disaster emergency declared by Little in response to the pandemic—were introduced in the House and Senate last week.

Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, introduced by Winder, would end the governor’s COVID-19 emergency orders, but wouldn’t prevent the state from continuing to receive federal funding and resources related to COVID-19. Under the resolution, the governor can make or maintain declarations to the extent required to keep receiving FEMA money, “but may not use any such declaration to impose restrictions on the citizens of the State of Idaho.”

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted Tuesday to send the resolution to the House floor for a vote.

House Concurrent Resolution 1, introduced by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, would similarly terminate the emergency declaration. Unlike Winder’s resolution, Scott’s would affect the state’s ability to receive FEMA funding—but would not impact CARES Act funding.


Editor's note: Much of this story was initially published on Thursday, Jan. 14, but has since been updated with the most recent developments from the Legislature.

Email the writer: gkauffman@mtexpress.com

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