House votes to override Little’s veto of one of the bills limiting emergency declarations

Signs of possible path for legislative adjournment began to appear Wednesday afternoon

By: - April 21, 2021 6:34 pm

The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

The Idaho House of Representatives voted Wednesday to override Gov. Brad Little’s veto of a bill that restricted gubernatorial authority and emergency declarations. 

Following a charged debate that lasted nearly two hours, the House voted 48-19 to override Little’s veto of House Bill 135.

House Bill 135 is one of two bills relating to emergency declarations and gubernatorial powers that Little said Friday he intended to veto. 

The other bill was Senate Bill 1136

The Senate failed to get the two-thirds majority of votes to override Little’s veto of that bill on Monday. That means Little’s veto of Senate Bill 1136 stands.

As for House Bill 135, Wednesday’s debate on overriding the veto became heated before it even started.

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, attempted to make procedural moves to cut off the traditional reading of Little’s veto letter on the House floor. 

That prompted a question from Rep. Heather Scott, a Blanchard Republican who is no fan of Little’s.

“We seem to be reading all the other rants of this out-of-control governor,” Scott said on the House floor. “I’m just curious why we are not going to read this letter.”

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, admonished Scott for the way she referred to Little in her question.

But Monks answered her.

“Frankly, I didn’t want to hear it,” Monks said.

A short time later, Scott asked Bedke to put the whole House at ease so all 70 legislators could receive a printed copy of Little’s letter.

Then the debate really picked up, and House Republicans unloaded on Little.

Monks took issue with the governor’s March 2020 stay-home order that asked Idahoans to isolate at home to fight the coronavirus. The order included an exception for essential workers, as defined by the state.

“Nothing was more offensive to me than being told that your job was not essential, but somebody’s else’s job was essential,” Monks said. “Putting food on the table at my house, that is pretty essential.”

Monks again brought up the uncertainty over adjourning this legislative session, which has now gone on for 101 days and is the longest session 10 years. He said the Legislature should have a role in deciding emergency orders and responses, not just the governor. 

“We are here this length of time because we were not allowed to participate in the summer,” Monks said. “Had we been allowed to participate in the summer, I think this would have been a much shorter session.”

Legislators who voted against overriding the veto, including a handful of Republicans, pointed out how impractical it would be to haul the Legislature back to Boise every time an emergency lasted for more than 60 days. 

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said there have been 900 emergencies declared in Idaho over the past 63 years for various reasons ranging from wildfires to floods to droughts to excessive snowpack and blizzards and more. 

That’s about 14 a year.

“We’re going to be really busy if we have to come back every 60 days,” Gannon said.

Rep. Scott Syme, a Caldwell Republican, pointed out that there was an emergency declaration that lasted four months because of a rock slide that blocked the road into Elk City. Syme asked legislators to consider what would happen if the House Bill 135 was law then. Would legislators leave the people of Elk City to suffer without food, water and resources beyond 60 days? Otherwise they would need to call a special legislative session to extend an emergency declaration.

“Is that a good use of taxpayer dollars?” Syme asked. “I don’t think so.”

In vetoing the bill, Little said the emergency powers allow him to seek federal power and resources. He said the bill would jeopardize critical funding.
Monks disagreed, saying the bill was designed to provide an exception for extending an emergency order for the sole purpose of collection processes for receiving federal funding or resources. 

In the end, the House voted 48-19 to override the veto. They needed at least 45 votes to secure the two-thirds supermajority, based on the number of legislators present.

But the House voting to override the veto was only step one. It will also take a two-thirds vote of the Senate to successfully override the veto. It would take 24 votes to override the veto if all 35 senators are present.  

Is the end of the 2021 session near?

Signs of a possible path to adjournment for the Legislature began to appear Wednesday afternoon.

The House Ways and Means Committee introduced five new bills in a flurry of activity. One of the new bills, House Bill 377, is a response to the “social justice” debate that emerged when the Idaho House killed the higher education budget and public school budget for teacher salaries earlier this month.

Conservative Republicans raised fears that social justice teachings and critical race theory were being presented to teachers or entering public school classrooms, colleges and universities.

The new bill supports “the right of others to express differing opinions.”

The bill also states that no institution of higher education shall compel students to affirm, adopt or adhere to tenets or beliefs on a range of topics related to sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin. 

Under the bill, no school could require students to affirm “that individuals by virtue of sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin, are inherently responsible for actions committed in the past by other members of the same sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin.”

The committee quickly voted to introduce the bill, but Democrats raised some questions. 

“I feel that there is just an imaginary problem, to some extent being addressed here,” House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said. “I really don’t think we have a problem in our education system such that we need to be putting conditions on funding.”

Nevertheless, House Bill 377 may be one of the keys to breaking the logjam preventing the legislature from setting a balanced budget and adjourning for the year. 

Rep. Wendy Horman, the Idaho Falls Republican who served as one of the sponsors of the new bill, said there have been eight different drafts of the bill and dozens of legislators engaged with the bill drafting and the overall debate. 

As the bill was introduced, Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, said that the House Education Committee would conduct a hearing on the bill Thursday morning. 

Shortly thereafter, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee posted an agenda showing that it would reconvene Thursday to work on setting the higher education budget, teachers salary budget and welfare budgets that were rejected. 

JFAC had not met all week while those budgets remained unresolved. 

The Legislature is required to pass a balanced budget each year and have it in place when the state’s new fiscal year begins July 1.

What if the Idaho Legislature doesn’t adjourn until May?

Although there may be signs of progress, the House Ways and Means Committee introduced a bill Wednesday that clarifies what would happen if the Legislature remains in session beyond May 2.

Because that would be within 60 days of the new fiscal year beginning July 1, Monks said he worried about what would happen to any bills the Legislature passed after that date. His new bill, House Bill 376, addresses laws passed after May 2. The bill would amend any laws passed after May 2 to ensure they become effective on July 1 instead of having to wait 60 full days to become effective.

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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.