Heather Scott senior meals

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, debates against HB 123 in the Idaho House on Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021; the bill would allow Idaho's Commission on Aging to spend $862,400 in federal coronavirus aid approved by Congress in December on home-delivered meals for Idaho seniors. Scott said churches and neighbors should provide care for seniors, not government.

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Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, offered a warning to the House today that House members aligned with him will be “using all the rules and tools at our disposal” to vent their displeasure over the fact that “this legislative session has been somewhat disappointing, we are here at week six, day three of week six, and virtually nothing has been accomplished to fix the needs that our citizens have been promised will be fixed.” He said, “Idaho families are still hurting,” and said he believes they want the Legislature to “end the governor’s emergency declarations,” and take other steps including “end public health orders,” “hold sporting events including dances,” and “rein in the governor’s emergency powers.”

“This week is a new beginning,” Nate declared. “All legislators have procedural power.” He called on House members to “put pressure on the body across the rotunda” to hear HJR 1, the House-passed proposed constitutional amendment to allow the Legislature to call itself into session, though that bill just had its hearing in a Senate committee this morning and emerged with a “do-pass recommendation.” He also told the House, “We’ve had grocery tax proposals, vaccination freedom proposals, and abolish abortion proposals shut down and not heard by committee chairs. … This week we’re using legislative procedures ... for the benefit of all Idahoans.”

Then, when the House came to the first bill on its 3rd Reading Calendar today, HB 123, a supplemental appropriation to allow the state Commission on Aging to spend $862,400 granted to Idaho under the COVID-19 aid bill that President Trump signed Dec. 27 to deliver meals to seniors at home in place of the congregate meals it would have offered but for COVID-19, Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, objected to waiving full reading of the bill. That forced House Chief Clerk Carrie Maulin to read the text of the bill in full; since it was only one page, it didn’t take long.

Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, the House sponsor of the bill, said, “As we all recognize, this past year has been trying for many of our communities, but particularly for our seniors.” With the closure of in-person meal programs, she said, Area Agencies on Aging in Idaho had additional costs including to-go containers, personal protective equipment and transportation to offer those seniors home-delivered meals instead. “These additional funds will enable home-delivered meals to be an option for many of our seniors and many of our communities,” she said.

Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, told the House, “I just want to for the record make it clear that I’m not against the aging. The point is that these supplemental appropriations that are coming up and are coming across the table all could be placed on the 2022 budget, and I just think it’s inappropriate for us to be passing these supplemental budgets when in fact this should be on next year’s budget.” However, that would require waiting until after July 1 to spend the money; the supplemental appropriation allows the funds to be spent immediately.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said she agreed with Barbieri. “I’m not against the aging, but what I am against is moving supplemental money around so it’s .. hard to find for citizens.” She added that she believed the bill provided “too much money for the government to take care of the aging when it should be coming from our neighbors and our churches. … That’s where I think this care should come from with regard to the aging.”

Green noted in her closing debate, “The funds that are being allocated to the Commission on Aging, they anticipate using them up by the end of this fiscal year.” She said, “The COVID crisis which we find ourselves in has impacted so many of our communities, more importantly, so many of our seniors who find themselves captive in their homes.”

The bill then passed on a 57-11 vote. After that, House members aligned with Nate objected to waiving full reading of several other bills as well, some much longer, slowing down the business of the House this morning. When things finally wrapped up well into the noon hour, the House recessed and will come back on the floor again at 3:30 this afternoon, the first afternoon session the House has held this year.

HB 123 now moves to the Senate side; it’s one of a number of bills that have been slowly making their way through the Legislature to spend nearly $900 million in federal coronavirus aid that Congress authorized in December and President Trump signed Dec. 27. While several bills are pending and others haven’t yet been introduced, none have yet been signed into law.

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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