Rotunda flag 2021

A giant Idaho flag hangs in the rotunda of the state Capitol for the 2021 Idaho legislative session.

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In a dizzying day of high-speed lawmaking, the Idaho House on Wednesday passed a controversial bill to make it harder to qualify voter initiatives for the Idaho ballot, voted to override Gov. Brad Little’s first veto of the year, on powers of the state Tax Commission chairman, and overwhelmingly killed the higher education budget amid complaints about “social justice activism.”

Meanwhile, the Senate voted to end Idaho’s distinction as the last state to treat industrial hemp the same as marijuana, sending the bill to the governor’s desk; the joint budget committee set a new budget for Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s office after she called its first version “punitive;” a big new transportation funding bill cleared a House committee unanimously with all-positive testimony; and two legislative panels received their first briefings on more than $5 billion that could come to Idaho as a result of the latest congressional COVID-19 aid package.

All the legislative activity comes as lawmakers push to finish up this year’s session over the next two weeks, after taking an 18-day recess due to a major Statehouse COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’ve got to get moving,” said Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “I don’t want to be here ‘til August.”

JFAC will begin hearing presentations from state agencies on Thursday on their requests to spend various pieces of the new federal funds.

“It’s our intention that we’re going to be very deliberative in our approach,” said Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, the Senate co-chair of JFAC. “We’ll have the agencies come with their requests. And once those requests are made, the committee, if we so choose, can bring motions.”

He cautioned that in most areas, the decision will be “either to accept or reject.”

“There’s very little wiggle room,” he said. “The weight is on this committee’s shoulders to make decisions about whether we will move forward with these dollars. So take time, study and learn, and we’ll have a number of hearings from different agencies concerning these dollars.”

According to the latest estimates, Idaho is likely to get about $5.4 billion from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which lawmakers are referring to by its acronym ARPA. In most cases, the state would have up until Dec. 31, 2024 to spend the money.

You can read my full story here at (subscription required), or pick up Thursday's edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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