Rep. Greg Chaney screenshot 7-30-30

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, argues in favor of a liability immunity proposal during a legislative working group meeting via Zoom on Thursday, July 30, 2020.

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After more than three hours of debate, the House and Senate Judiciary committees have voted to recommend a special session of the Legislature to consider legislation drafted by the two panels’ chairs and Ken McClure of the Idaho Liability Reform Coalition, to broadly provide immunity from liability during declared emergencies for those who make good-faith efforts. The draft legislation won the joint working group’s support on a divided vote, with the House members backing it 12-6 and the Senate members backing it 7-2. It includes an emergency clause and would be a permanent change to Idaho law.

A competing proposal from Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, for a more limited liability immunity proposal limited only to COVID-19, and with a “sunset” or expiration date of July 1, 2022, failed on a divided vote, with Senate members of the working group rejecting it 3-6 and House members closely split, 8-10. A third proposal from Rep. Julianne Young to just call for a special session on COVID-19 liability without recommending any specific legislation also failed; it won majority support from House members of the working group, 11-7, but got just a 3-6 vote from Senate members. Under the charge to the joint working group, each house’s members must pass a proposal for it to carry. I’ll have a full story on this later today.

House Judiciary Chairman Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who made the motion to approve the successful draft, argued against Young’s motion, saying, “Simply recommending a special session and walking away is an exercise in futility, complete futility. Because if these 27 people on this working group can’t get behind a draft now, why would we pay to bring 105 people to Boise to sit around and wait for us to do it later?”

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, told the committee, “It is our job as a legislative body to address these issues.” She said she was “offended” that the governor asked for a specific proposal before agreeing to call for a special session. “I’m not ready to turn over my duties to the governor,” she declared.

Under the Idaho Constitution, only the governor can call the Legislature into special session, and the special session has no power to legislate on any subject other than those specified in the governor’s proclamation convening the special session.

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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