BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers in the Idaho House concerned they could be left out again in spending what could be a billion dollars in federal coronavirus rescue money approved legislation Tuesday to prevent that from happening.
The House voted 56-9 to send to the Senate the measure preventing Republican Gov. Brad Little from spending federal rescue money without lawmakers’ involvement.
The legislation changes Idaho law so that federal money not already accounted for that is coming to the state the rest of the year can’t be spent without lawmakers signing off.
Lawmakers say they should have had a say in spending the $1.25 billion in relief money that Idaho received early last year.
Little formed a committee last year that included the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's powerful budget committee as well as a Democrat. The committee provided guidance to Little while allowing him to respond quickly to a fast-changing health crisis.
The new legislation would not allow that type of system if President Joe Biden and Congress approve additional relief money for Idaho this year.
A House committee introduced the legislation a few hours before the House vote, fast-tracking the bill as lawmakers rush to wrap up the session this week.
“The powers to appropriate are constitutionally vested into the legislative process, of which the governor is part," Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said after the committee meeting but before the House vote. “I think President Biden's recent press conferences and national addresses give us pause about what else is in the pipeline, and so we're just keeping our options open.”
Bedke said spending millions of dollars of federal money should be a decision made by the entire Legislature, not one person sitting in the governor's office.
Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel voted to introduce the legislation along with two other Democratic committee members, though they had reservations. Rubel voted against the bill in the House vote.
“This would tie the governor's hands in terms of being able to accept it and use it," she said. “So that's problematic and could lead to some really unfortunate consequences.”
Rubel also questioned whether the Republican-led House could avoid politicizing budget decisions, noting a push by conservative lawmakers last week that led to killing $40 million in COVID-19 testing for schools, with one Republican lawmaker falsely claiming children can't carry the virus.
It's also possible the Legislature, based on several other measures being considered, would not officially adjourn this year but take a recess that could be ended with Bedke and Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder calling lawmakers back to deal with any new coronavirus relief money.