Small group of GOP legislators tries and fails to reconvene the Idaho Legislature
Most Republican legislators stayed home instead, including Idaho Falls lawmakers who held their own press conference
Rep. Dorothy Moon, speaking, and 12 other legislators gathered on the Statehouse steps on Sept. 15, 2021, hoping to reconvene the Legislature. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)
Sixteen conservative legislators tried and failed to establish a quorum in an attempt to bring the Idaho Legislature back into session Wednesday at the Statehouse.
The legislators, who generally align with the far-right wing of the party as well as the Idaho Freedom Foundation, put out a call over the weekend encouraging their colleagues to return to the Capitol and attempt to fight President Joe Biden’s vaccine rules.
Some legislators also decried vaccine requirements that several large Treasure Valley hospitals and medical providers put in place this month.
“Numerous calls have been made by all of you in this audience — and emails — to our speaker and our pro tem and our governor: ‘somebody get us back in session,’ but it has fallen on deaf ears you guys,” Rep. Dorothy Moon, R-Stanley, told a crowd of about a couple hundred people gathered on the Statehouse steps on Wednesday.
“As far as the mandates that our president has just put out, you would have thought last middle of the week that we would have come in Monday of this week to address this issue, but apparently leadership doesn’t think it’s paramount to the health and well-being and the psyche to the citizens of this state (but) I do. We do. You do,” Moon continued.
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Even though a staffer from the Idaho Republican Party read a proclamation from GOP State Chairman Tom Luna calling for the Legislature to reconvene, a majority of Republicans did not unite behind Wednesday’s exercise.
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, and members of Republicans legislative leadership did not participate in Wednesday’s attempt to reconvene the session. Gov. Brad Little did not participate in any way either.
In fact, most of the House’s 58 Republicans and all of the Democrats stayed home. Just 14 House Republicans appeared to participate.
In the Senate, just two of the 28 Republicans appeared to show up Wednesday. No Democratic senators tried to reconvene the session.
Legislators had hoped to achieve a quorum of at least 36 House members but never appeared to have more than 14 House members and two senators present.
All six GOP legislators representing districts 30 and 33 in Eastern Idaho stayed home Wednesday and held a press conference instead. Although they said they oppose Biden’s vaccine rules, they said the process attempting to reconvene the Legislature was flawed.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said that process “was not inclusive.”
Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, pointed out that the House adopted House Resolution 4, which gives Bedke, as speaker, the power and authority to reconvene the House. Ehardt also said she is working on getting senators on board so that legislators have a chance to “actually pass something moving forward.”
Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls, said he chose to respect the legislative process for reconvening.
“All of the pieces have to be in place in order for the Legislature to be called back into session,” Marshall said during the press conference, which Sen. Kevin Cook, R-Idaho Falls, streamed online.
While they were unable to actually reconvene the Legislature, legislators who did show up made their way to the House floor on Wednesday afternoon and discussed several potential draft bills they hope to introduce when and if the Legislature convenes. Some of the bills prohibited vaccine requirements, and one would make it so residents don’t have to disclose their medical information. Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, shared one bill publicly in her newsletter. It would prohibit businesses from requiring the COVID-19 vaccine as a condition of or a continuation of employment.
After discussing proposed draft bills for close to an hour, legislators said many of them planned to show back up at 9 a.m. Thursday in hopes more legislators would join them.
“I don’t know what more we can do besides wait for those to show up,” Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said on the House floor.
What would it take for the Idaho Legislature to reconvene?
It’s a little unclear where the legislative session stands because of the unusual way the longest session in state history wound down earlier this year. On May 12, the Idaho Senate adjourned the legislative session for the year, while the Idaho House of Representatives voted down a motion to adjourn and instead voted to take an extended recess.
The Idaho Constitution says one legislative chamber may not adjourn for more than three days “without the concurrence of the other.”
The Idaho Constitution also says only the governor may call a special session of the Legislature, but many Republicans in the House believe the adopting House Resolution 4 on May 12 to go at recess instead of adjourning leaves the door open for Bedke, as the speaker, to reconvene the House.
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In an Aug. 31 interview with the Idaho Capital Sun, Bedke said he would bring the House back in session if someone brought forward a proposed bill addressing vaccine requirements that already has enough support to pass the House and the Senate. That means 18 votes in the Senate and 36 in the House.
“Otherwise we’re going to come here with an open-ended agenda, and we’re going to waste the taxpayers’ money for days, if not weeks, and that is not the proper use of taxpayers’ money,” Bedke said in the interview.
Speaking on the House floor Wednesday, Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, said a House Republican is working on a proposed bill that may already have 34 House votes committed behind it.
Although he has so far not called for the Legislature to reconvene, Bedke and House Republicans released a statement Tuesday saying they would convene the House Committee on Federalism on Sept. 28 to “provide a comprehensive plan to vigorously defend the Idaho values we hold dear against this administration’s unrelenting acts of federal overreach”
Which legislators showed up at the Idaho Statehouse this week?
Legislators who went on the House floor Wednesday or gathered on the Statehouse steps as part of an attempt to reconvene include:
- Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens.
- Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Iona.
- Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
- Rep. Greg Ferch, R-Boise.
- Rep. Codi Galloway, R-Boise.
- Rep. Terry Gestrin, R-Donnelly.
- Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird.
- Rep. Karey Hanks, R-St. Anthony.
- Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene.
- Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg.
- Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton.
- Rep. Doug Okuniewicz, R-Hayden.
- Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard.
- Rep. Tony Wisniewski, R-Post Falls.
- Sen. Christy Zito, R-Hammett.
- Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian.
- Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, also spoke on the Statehouse steps Wednesday.
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