Within hours, Legislature approves bills limiting governor’s emergency powers

Three House bills and new Senate bill pass on party lines

By: - May 5, 2021 6:13 pm
Idaho Gov. Brad Little announces veto of Idaho Legislature bill to curb executive power

Idaho Gov. Brad Little announces he will veto legislation to curb executive powers in an emergency. Little was joined by former Gov. Butch Otter, left, who called the legislation “bad bills.”

A slew of bills aimed at limiting an Idaho governor’s authority during a declared emergency passed the House and Senate during marathon floor sessions Wednesday afternoon. 

The four bills are part of an effort to separate what legislators called the “key components” of two previous bills that were vetoed by Gov. Brad Little on April 16. 

All four pieces of legislation were introduced and passed in the past two days.

The three House bills that passed the Senate today were introduced in the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday and sailed through the House with no debate the following day. The bills address three topics:

  • House Bill 391 clarifies constitutional rights cannot be changed or limited as a result of an emergency declaration
  • House Bill 392 changes Idaho Code to read that only state rules can be changed during an emergency, not regulations or laws
  • House Bill 393 states all jobs are essential, and any restrictions on job performance must be “narrowly tailored” and cannot apply to an entire classification of jobs.

The fourth, Senate Bill 1217, was introduced in the Senate State Affairs Committee on Wednesday and passed the full Senate and House a few hours later. The legislation repeals and replaces Idaho Code that delegates authority to the governor to act in a state of extreme emergency and changes it to require concurrence by the Legislature for actions such as ending emergency declarations and/or orders, suspension of constitutional rights and any alteration or suspension of Idaho Code.

There was little debate among Republicans or Democrats on the three House bills, but Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, did debate against House Bill 392. Stennett said the sponsor of the bill, Rep. Jason Monks, R-Meridian, mentioned during the Senate committee hearing on the bill that changes in election laws during the pandemic that did not have legislative input were part of the reason why the legislation was necessary. 

Stennett said the Idaho House Republican Caucus announced at the end of March 2020 that the primary election would be conducted through absentee voting because of COVID-19 and a shortage of poll workers. The caucus said those changes were made with cooperation from the Legislature, Little and the Idaho Secretary of State. 

“However, all of a sudden there is this concern by the Legislature that they want to have legislative input like something had gone wrong or they didn’t have input the last time,” Stennett said. “… I would argue it went remarkably well, and it was with full cooperation of all levels of government. So I’m mystified why we suddenly aren’t happy with this.” 

The House bills await Little’s signature or veto. He has five days, not counting Sunday, to sign or veto the bills or let them become law without his signature. 

The Senate bill still needs to be passed by the House, and the members may take it up later this evening.  

The two original vetoed bills were House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136, which Little called “just plain irresponsible.” He said provisions in both proposed laws, such as limiting the length of time for a disaster declaration without approval from the Legislature, would limit the state, as well as cities and counties in the case of earthquakes, power grid failures, flooding and fires. 

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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.

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