The Idaho House killed next year’s $200 million Division of Welfare budget hours after the Legislature reconvened Tuesday following a COVID-19 outbreak that had put the session on hold since March 19.
The failure of the budget bill likely means the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will reconvene in the coming days and draft a new budget, which falls under the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
Killing a budget isn’t unprecedented. Last year, the House killed the higher education budget twice before passing a third version of the budget that reduced overall funding by $750,000, Idaho Education News reported.
As for the actual return to action, little felt or looked different than before the COVID-19 outbreak in which at least six House members and two staffers tested positive before the Legislature abruptly recessed. Legislators convened on the House and Senate floors in person to debate and vote on bills as usual.
At early afternoon roll call, 68 of 70 House members were present, as were 33 of 35 senators.
Most legislators didn’t wear masks or face coverings.
But the Legislature has taken some steps during the pandemic. All meetings and floor sessions are available to stream online, committee rooms have been spread out to promote physical distancing and the Legislature does accept remote testimony from Idahoans who signed up and register in advance on the Legislature’s website.
Welfare budget fails in the Idaho House
Republicans killed the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, Division of Welfare budget after a few of the more hard-line conservative legislators questioned a 28.8% increase in federal spending.
They specifically took issue with nearly $34 million in federal COVID-19 relief money for child care.
“How many child care providers are we talking about, because that’s a sizeable amount of money,” Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, asked.
Rep. Caroline Nilsson Troy, the Moscow Republican who sponsored the budget bill, Senate Bill 1163, said the money is provided to Idaho through the federal COVID relief money and was intended to be for loans to help child care providers stay in business.
“I know those providers in my district have really struggled trying to stay in business with so many kids staying out of their programs,” Troy said.
The conservative advocacy group the Idaho Freedom Foundation had flagged the spending increase on its website and then praised the bill’s failure as “good news” in a social media post Tuesday afternoon.
JFAC, the Legislature’s joint budget committee, will likely reconvene and draft a new welfare budget in the coming days. The state is required to pass a balanced budget each year, and passing the 2022 budget is one of the few tasks the Legislature is obligated to complete before adjourning.
Senate passes abortion bill
The Senate voted 28-7 along party lines to pass a bill that would outlaw abortions after a heartbeat was detected by a medical professional.
Senate Bill 1183 would make it a felony punishable by a prison sentence of no less than two years for any person to perform an abortion on a pregnant woman after a heartbeat is detected.
Supporters of the bill said it is needed to protect unborn children. A statement of purpose attached to the bill says a heart-beat is a key indicator, in law and medical practice alike, of the existence of life.
Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, Idaho state director for Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates, issued a statement calling the bill extremist legislation that would ban most abortions at six weeks.
“Planned Parenthood and people across Idaho condemn the Legislature for its repeated extreme attacks on reproductive health care,” DelliCarpini-Tolman said in the statement. “Rather than focusing on COVID-19 recovery, the Idaho Legislature is continuing to waste time and resources on this dangerous and unconstitutional ban on abortion before most people know they are pregnant.”
SB 1183 next heads to the House for consideration.
Rep. Adams gives ‘liberty and tyranny’ speech
There was some brief excitement moments after the House reconvened early Tuesday afternoon. A freshman legislator stood on the floor and loudly delivered a 3.5-minute speech, seemingly apropos of nothing, evoking Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson and railing about liberty and tyranny.
“Wake up!,” Rep. Ben Adams, R-Nampa, screamed into the House chambers.
“Now is the time to push back, to lay claim to our sovereignty as a state and the sovereignty of every citizen,” he said.
Adams didn’t reference a specific bill or budget earmark. But he lamented “an increasingly centralized government” and “heavily monopolized woke corporate industry.”
Adams told legislators that if it comes to “watering of the tree of liberty with the blood of every tyrant from sea to shining sea, then so be it.”
“Hear me now! Either lead, follow or get the hell out of the way,” Adams said
Nobody reacted or responded to Adams’ speech. He asked permission before speaking, but delivered his polemic outside of debate, at a time when legislators normally rise to announce such mundane developments as a colleague’s birthday, the arrival of a legislator’s visiting spouse or a change to the starting time of a hearing.
The House is due to reconvene at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.
The Senate is due to reconvene at 10 a.m. Wednesday.