Bedke Hill file

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, left, speaks at the AP Legislative Preview in January in this file photo, as Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, looks on.

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Idaho’s House and Senate GOP leaders announced Monday that they’ll form “joint legislative working groups” to address COVID-19 in Idaho, including developing legislation for consideration in January on everything from election processes to the governor’s emergency powers.

House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said she was blindsided by the Monday morning announcement, and said there’s no precedent for appointing joint legislative committees with no minority party representation. “Generally, I feel like we do our best work when we do it cooperatively and on a bipartisan basis,” she said. “We represent a substantial number of Idahoans and people in our districts, our constituents, are significantly impacted by COVID and absolutely deserve to have a say on whatever legislative response there is.”

Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, and House GOP Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, clarified Monday afternoon that Democrats will also be asked to participate. Blanksma said, “Our press release didn’t indicate that the minority wasn’t welcome. It was just promoting our majorities, which is what the job is for me.”

Hill said he had talked with Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, about the idea; she couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday.

“They’re going to be made up of existing germane committees,” Hill said, “so the minority will automatically be a part of it.”

The Republicans’ press release listed six topics to be addressed:

• Election dates and processes

• Procedures and limits for receiving and spending federal funds

• Emergency declaration duration and power

• Constitutional amendment for special legislative sessions without call of the governor

• Limitations on liability for schools, businesses or other entities during health crisis

• Statutory flexibility for public schools to deal with possible financial holdbacks

The same six topics were listed in a letter that went out late Monday afternoon to every member of the Legislature, of both parties, from Hill and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley.

Bedke couldn’t be reached for comment on Monday, but he said in the GOP press release, “The past few months have taught us a hard lesson: Idaho’s laws dealing with unprecedented conditions created by the COVID-19 virus are inadequate. The Republican Caucuses of the House and Senate are working together to craft legislation that would improve Idaho’s future response should these conditions arise again.”

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (no paywall on coronavirus stories - access is free, but please consider subscribing!), or pick up Tuesday'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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