BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Lawmakers on a House panel introduced legislation Friday to allow the Idaho Legislature to go into recess without fully shutting down so that it can come back into session to deal with the coronavirus pandemic and other issues.
The measure would allow Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke and Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder to reconvene the Legislature no later than Sept. 1.
If the Legislature officially adjourned, only Republican Gov. Brad Little could call them back. Lawmakers are reluctant to put themselves in that position, arguing much of their role in government was usurped by Little last year during the early stages of the pandemic when he declared an emergency and issued executive and health orders.
The legislation came on day 103 of the Legislative session, third-longest in the state’s history, as lawmakers struggle in the endgame to wrap up the session but avoid being left on the sideline the rest of the year.
“This is potentially a ticket out of here,” Republican House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma told the committee in introducing the measure.
The legislation allows the recess without paying lawmakers up to $139 in daily expenses even though the Legislature would technically remain in session, saving the state money.
The measure is a concurrent resolution, needing only the approval of the House and Senate and not the governor’s signature. The Idaho Constitution doesn't allow the Legislature to adjourn for more than three days without both chambers agreeing.
Lawmakers are angry they didn’t play a larger role last year after they adjourned and Little took emergency pandemic actions, including designating some jobs as “nonessential" and issuing a stay-at-home order as the pandemic threatened to overwhelm hospitals with COVID-19 patients.
Little also created laws and changed election dates, which lawmakers said is reserved for the Legislature. Lawmakers also argued they should have had a role in allocating the $1.25 billion the state received in federal coronavirus relief money early last year.
Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle after the meeting said lawmakers don’t want to allow that to happen again with what could be another round of virus relief money coming from the Biden administration later this year.
“If that money comes to the state, the Legislature would like to be involved with spending it, not like what happened last time where the governor just did what he wanted to do,” Moyle said.
Also looming is redistricting, or setting the boundaries for Idaho's 35 Legislative districts. Redistricting relies on U.S. Census numbers, which the state would normally have by now but aren't expected until later this year.
That could also mean less time for court challenges, candidate filing and ballot creation, especially if Idaho's bipartisan redistricting committee has problems agreeing to new boundaries, which it typically does.
It's not exactly clear what type of changes in Idaho law might be needed to deal with those potential problems.
Moyle cited that as another reason many lawmakers are reluctant to officially end the session and render themselves powerless.
Still, the legislation will likely face opposition from some lawmakers who fear turning the part-time Legislature into a full-time job. Lawmakers, 70 in the House and 35 in the Senate, are expected to look over the bill during the weekend. Ultimately, Moyle said, a different version could be put forward next week based on lawmaker reaction to find a “possible path forward.”
“We have to make sure everybody is on board,” he said. “This is a starting point."