Idaho Senate calls for a second recess, waits for House to finish business

Meanwhile the House passed a bill that would prohibit government mask mandates

By: - April 14, 2021 5:16 pm
The Idaho Statehouse in Boise

The Idaho State Capitol in downtown Boise. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho Senate abruptly called for a second recess of the year late Wednesday morning, guaranteeing the 2021 session will become the longest of the past 10 years.

Where the session goes from there is still anybody’s guess.

Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, R-Burley, called for the Senate to recess until Monday. Anthon blamed the Idaho House of Representatives for the recess, saying the Senate is nearly finished with all business on its agenda, but cannot move forward to complete its work without knowing where the state budget stands. 

“What we have arrived at is a place where in order for us to take up that vital (unfinished) business, we first need to know what we are dealing with,” Anthon said. “In order for us to know how much we have available for tax cuts, for transportation and other matters, we need to first finish up budgeting for the state of Idaho to know what is available.”

The Idaho House has killed three major budgets — the Division of Welfare budget, the higher education budget and the K-12 public school budget for teacher salaries — since April 6. 

The Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget each year, and the new budget would need to take effect July 1.

The recess does not prevent the 10 senators serving on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee from meeting. JFAC is scheduled to meet at 8 a.m. Thursday.

This will be the second recess of the year for the Senate. The entire Legislature abruptly went at recess March 19 amid a coronavirus outbreak that infected at least six House members. The Statehouse outbreak ultimately inflected at least 14 people and spread to household members, the Idaho Capital Sun reported

Both chambers of the Legislature reconvened April 6. 

Since returning to the Statehouse in Boise last week, the House and Senate have been on opposite trajectories. Members of the Senate held morning, afternoon and sometimes evening floor sessions to pass budgets and plow through legislation. 

Meanwhile, the House killed several budgets, which relate to children and education. Legislators killed those bills after several House Republicans warned of “social justice” and “critical race theory” entering Idaho classrooms and universities. They also took issue with a series of diversity and inclusivity programs at Boise State University. 

Those three budgets are in various states of being redrafted. 

The House also continued to engage in a power struggle with Gov. Brad Little over executive authority he exercised to fight the coronavirus pandemic. 

Thursday will be the 95th day of the legislative session (the days at recess count toward that total). That ties for the longest session of the past 10 years with the 2019 session. The longest session in state history ran for 118 days in 2003. 

No senators objected or argued against taking the recess. 

The House did not go at recess and is scheduled to reconvene at 10:30 a.m. Thursday.

Idaho House calls for outlawing mask mandates

House Republicans overwhelmingly passed a bill that would prohibit the state or any government agency from requiring people to wear masks or face coverings to prevent the spread of disease. 

GOP supporters of House Bill 339 said the bill is all about personal liberty and freedom.

In addition to prohibiting government agencies and local governments from mandating masks, the bill also includes a provision that would terminate any disaster, emergency or public health order in place at the time if someone violates the bill by mandating masks.

“Personal responsibility and personal choice should be what determines this,” Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony, said. 

But opponents said the bill takes away a tool for slowing the spread of disease, is deeply flawed and flies in the face of a local-control philosophy the Legislature claims to favor by tying the hands of local government agencies.

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, was one of 10 Republicans to vote against the bill. He said passing the bill would make it so that if a school secretary in Coeur d’Alene required a mask to enter an office and violated this bill, that could terminate an emergency drought declaration in another part of the state.

Chaney also pointed out any government employee who wanted to overturn an emergency declaration could do so simply by requiring somebody to put on a mask.

“This bill is a nice statement to make, and so if you are here to make a statement it’s a perfectly appropriate thing to vote for,” Chaney said. “But if you are here to govern, its technical deficiencies are far too great for it to ever be successfully implemented.”

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Little, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen and State Epidemiologist Dr. Christine Hahn said wearing a mask is one of the main tools to slow the spread of the virus, along with maintaining physical distance and washing hands. 

Idaho never implemented a statewide mask mandate, although several cities and public health districts did issue orders and advisories. 

Idaho public health officials reported the state’s 2,000th COVID-19 death on Tuesday. That same day, the state reported it is tracking 213 new confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases. 

But Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, said the coronavirus “to me has pretty much been dropped or leveled in the numbers to where the pandemic doesn’t exist in this state.”

In the end, House Bill 339 passed the House 47-22. It heads next to the Senate consideration, with the Senate at recess until Monday.

How they voted:

Here is how legislators voted on the bill to prohibit government mask mandates. Screen grab courtesy of Idaho in Session.

 

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Clark Corbin
Clark Corbin

Clark Corbin has more than a decade of experience covering Idaho government and politics. He has covered every Idaho legislative session since 2011 gavel-to-gavel. Prior to joining the Idaho Capital Sun he reported for the Idaho Falls Post Register and Idaho Education News. His reporting in Idaho has helped uncover a multimillion-dollar investment scam and exposed inaccurate data that school districts submitted to the state.

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