Idaho Gov. Little vetoing “just plain irresponsible” bills to curb emergency power

Four of Idaho’s previous governors back Little in fighting the GOP Legislature’s efforts

By: - April 16, 2021 4:01 pm
Idaho Gov. Brad Little announces veto of Idaho Legislature bill to curb executive power

In this file photo, Idaho Gov. Brad Little speaks at a press conference in April at the Idaho Statehouse. (Kelcie Moseley-Morris/Idaho Capital Sun)

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announced Friday that he will veto two bills passed by the Idaho Legislature that sought to limit his governing abilities during an emergency.

In a public address, Little said the bills violate the Idaho Constitution “on a number of fronts,” including the powers of the executive branch. He spoke forcefully against what he said are efforts to create laws based on raw emotions.

“This is just plain irresponsible, let’s be honest,” Little said. “These bills are an emotional kneejerk reaction because of anger about the pandemic, and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year.”

House Bill 135, which passed on April 15, limits disaster declarations to a maximum of 60 days unless extended under certain provisions. The legislation also prohibits a governor from altering, adjusting or suspending Idaho Code during a disaster declaration.

Senate Bill 1136, which passed on April 13, limits the amount of time a governor may maintain an emergency declaration without concurrence by the Legislature; prevents the suspension of the right to assemble, exercise religion or bear arms during emergencies. It also prohibits a governor from unilaterally altering or suspending Idaho Code.

Little said in his address that the bills are too broad. The state could face disasters involving major earthquakes, power grid failures, flooding and fires that could involve neighboring states as well, he said.

“The bills not only limit the state, but cities and counties as well,” Little said. “For example, our ability to evacuate a town in advance of a dam breach is hindered by the bills. The bills politicize our emergency response efforts and jeopardize critical funding for local governments during large-scale events.”

Former Idaho GOP governors defend emergency powers

Little also called upon all living former governors of Idaho to support his statements, including the most recent governor, C.L. “Butch” Otter. He also received support from former governors Dirk Kempthorne, Phil Batt, and Jim Risch. All are Republicans.

“There are those situations that may well exceed 60 days,” Kempthorne said in a pre-recorded video played during the address. “I certainly experienced that with fire seasons when I was governor. Does it make sense that somehow on the 60th day, that a governor would be precluded from making those tough, hard decisions?”

Former Idaho Gov. Butch Otter

Otter spoke at the podium during the address to echo Little’s statement, saying the bills threaten Idaho’s future and the health, safety and prosperity of the people of Idaho.

“I applaud Gov. Little for vetoing these bad bills. He and every future governor must have the authority and the tools that they need to respond quickly, save lives and protect livelihoods during the crisis,” Otter said. “If the Idaho Legislature really wants to constructively address how our state handles future disasters, it can start again by rejecting this flawed course and involve all parties in the conversation to get it right.”

Democratic and Republican leadership in Idaho Legislature react to veto

In a statement from the Idaho Joint Democratic Caucus, House Democratic Leader Ilana Rubel said Little made the right choice to veto the two bills. Both bills were opposed by Democrats in the House and Senate.

“In emergencies, the speed of our response is a matter of life and death for Idahoans. It is critical that our executive branch can act swiftly and effectively, something that our legislative branch has not exactly modeled this session,” Rubel said following the announcement.

In a statement from the Idaho House Republican Caucus, Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Megan Blanksma said the bills are only meant to address the emergency powers.

“This is simply an update to the system and not a commentary on the job performed by any elected official,” Blanksma said. “We still believe this legislation is important to appropriately balance the executive and legislative powers in Idaho, and it’s unfortunate that the current Governor seems to take the issue so personally.”

Read the veto letter:

Watch the governor’s address:

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.