BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little says he will veto two bills intended to curb his power to respond to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
Little made the announcement Friday, with four former governors also voicing support for the decision.
The bills violate the state Constitution and threaten the safety and economy of Idaho residents, Little said, by handcuffing the state's ability to quickly take action during emergencies like earthquakes, droughts or floods.
“The bills narrow the authority of future Governors to the point where a Governor could not deploy the National Guard to facilitate vaccine administration or repair bridges after a massive earthquake,” Little said in a statement. “We know future emergencies will include floods, fires and drought ... future Idaho governors must be able to respond quickly and protect lives and livelihoods.”
Lawmakers, upset over the state's response to the coronavirus pandemic, have taken aim at rules limiting gatherings and nonessential travel, as well as a governor’s authority during localized natural disasters such as wildfires and floods.
“These bills are an emotional kneejerk reaction because of anger about the pandemic and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year,” said Little. “But I still believe, when faced with difficult decisions and given the information I had at the time, I acted on balance during the pandemic response, and the strength of our economy today proves it.”
All of the state's living former governors — Butch Otter, Phil Batt, Dirk Kempthorne and U.S. Sen. Jim Risch — said they support the veto decision.
After Little's announcement, the House Republican Caucus issued a statement calling the state's emergency power laws “outdated remnants of the cold war era.”
“This is simply an update to the system and not a commentary on the job performed by any elected official,” said Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Megan Blanksma in the statement. “We still believe this legislation is important to appropriately balance the executive and legislative powers in Idaho and it’s unfortunate that the current Governor seems to take the issue so personally.”
The two bills target the governor's emergency powers during human-made events like terrorist attacks and localized natural disasters like wildfires and floods as well as pandemics. They each allow a governor to declare an emergency and extend it past 60 days, but only to ensure federal funding continues. Both bills would require any restrictions accompanying a governor’s order to expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature.
The bills would also prevent a governor from imposing some restrictions during an emergency. A governor’s emergency order couldn’t prevent people from going to work or gathering, including for religious services. An order also couldn’t quarantine healthy people.