Steven Harris House floor 8-25-20 special session

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, opens debate in the House on Tuesday, Aug. 25, 2020, on HCR 1, his proposal to end Idaho's current state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic.

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Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, has opened debate on HCR 1, his proposal to end the current state of emergency in Idaho over the coronavirus pandemic. He noted that Gov. Brad Little first declared an emergency March 13. “We’ve been in a state of disaster emergency ever since,” Harris said. He said back in March, little was known about the virus, “and it was a scary time. Much was done to make sure we had a handle on this.” The goal, he said, was to maintain capacity in Idaho hospitals, so they didn’t become overwhelmed. “Many of you know the hospitals have been somewhat empty,” Harris said. “There has been extreme collateral damage. We understand the damage to … livelihoods. … We have personal stories from friends or family who’ve become depressed, distraught, and those haven’t really been added in as a countervailing effect on the COVID epidemic.”

Rep. Scott Syme, R-Caldwell, asked Harris, “The governor has issued some waivers of certain rules and some of those deal with the medical professions, and ... their ability to treat patients for COVID. … If the emergency declaration was withdrawn, then what happens to those waivers of the rules and what happens to the patients that benefit from that?”

Harris said the governor could suspend those rules again. “He has authority in his agencies to adjust, suspend rules and regulations which are all agency executive branch items under his purview,” Harris said.

Syme didn’t appear convinced, and debated against the resolution. “I don’t disagree with anything that the good gentleman has said. My problem with taking this up right now, I just feel that we’re taking up something that we’re not constitutionally authorized to take up,” he said. “The governor called us here to deal with immunity and immunity legislation dealing with the pandemic. He called us here to deal with the elections. Those were the two specific subjects that he called us here for. I think it’s a real stretch for us to try and make this about something other than what he called us here for. I think just the fact that we’re even debating it is in violation of what we took an oath to defend that Constitution.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, spoke out against the resolution, saying there are issues Idaho needs to address, including problems with people being unable to see their loved ones as they lay dying in hospitals – but this resolution wouldn’t fix that. “That is the type of issue that we should be talking about, not a resolution that is going nowhere,” he said. “The rumor that I hear is that the Senate isn’t going to hear this resolution anyway.”

Rep. Laurie Lickley, R-Jerome, said, “I’ve been up since 4:30 this morning making notes and reading FEMA website.” On page 2 of the resolution, she said, it “says there’s no longer a need for statewide emergency declaration. This is simply not true.” She said, “This resolution says that Idaho has no need for further disaster funding,” but she cited numerous disaster declarations in counties across the state, on everything from drought to floods. “We can’t afford this. … This really does jeopardize Idaho’s ability to access emergency funding. … We will lose a lot of those FEMA dollars moving forward if this concurrent resolution passes.”

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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