Rep. Steven Harris introduces constitutional amendment 1-12-21

Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, introduces his proposed constitutional amendment on Tuesday to allow the Legislature to call itself into special session any time 60% of House and Senate members so request.

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The House State Affairs Committee this morning introduced three new measures aimed at trimming the governor’s emergency powers:

* A constitutional amendment from Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, to allow the Legislature to call itself into special session whenever 60% of House and Senate members want to.

* A complex measure from House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Nampa, to “restore the separation and balance of powers between the executive and legislative branches of government” by changing an array of provisions, including limiting all disaster emergency declarations to 30 days unless the Legislature extends them; forbidding the governor from altering or suspending any laws in an emergency; forbidding any limitations on religious gatherings, gun rights or gun manufacturing; limiting the governor’s ability to expend funds during an emergency; terminating all current emergency disaster declarations that have been in place for more than 30 days; and more. The bill includes measures saying the Legislature could exempt certain parts of emergency declarations from repeal, such as receiving federal funds for a National Guard deployment, but it wasn’t clear how that would work.

* A concurrent resolution from Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, to immediately end the current state of emergency regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. The measure’s Statement of Purpose acknowledges that it would cut off FEMA matching funds currently paying for three-quarters of the costs of the current Idaho National Guard mobilization to assist Idaho hospitals and health districts, which comes to tens of millions of dollars; it says, “This would have a positive impact to the federal budget.”

All three measures were approved for introduction on voice votes without objection; that clears the way for full hearings.

“Most of these things were in response to things we’ve heard over this past year,” Monks told the committee.

Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, the House State Affairs chairman, asked Monks, “So, just to be clear, should this pass, I don’t anticipate the governor would sign this, but let’s say it passes. … And he vetoes it, and we override (the veto). When the override happens, at that point the declaration would be over and relief would be in effect for the citizens of the state?”

Monks said yes. “Absolutely, because this is the law of the land,” he said. “They would all expire at that particular time.”

Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, asked if the bill included any “safety valve,” to address situations where, for example, a public facility is flooded and workers aren’t able to carry out duties there that otherwise are required by law to be performed on certain days. Monks said no; the Legislature would have to be brought back to address that. “If these were needs, that we need to change law, I think that we should be involved in that process,” Monks said. “Maybe we would do exactly what he did, but we need to be involved.”

“We’ve given ourselves some more work,” Monks said. “We would have to be involved in the process.”

Scott said her resolution is similar to one the House passed during the August special session, but that didn’t advance in the Senate. “I think early on there were so many questions about this disease, and so we thought there was going to be dead bodies in the streets pretty much,” she told the committee. “The numbers have not added up. A lot of the early numbers were based on speculation. … There was a lot of confusion about what this virus looked like and what the effects would be, but everything was over-estimated.”

To date, according to the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, more than 150,000 Idahoans have been infected with COVID-19, and 1,544 have died.

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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