Recent editorials from Idaho newspapers:

Welcome back, Idaho legislators. Wear a mask. We’re not paying for another recess

April 5

Idaho Statesman

We now know how much the Idaho Legislature’s COVID-19-induced recess is going to cost us taxpayers.

As Hayat Norimine of the Idaho Statesman reported last week, the session’s delay will have lasted more than two weeks by the time legislators are scheduled to return on Tuesday and will cost a total of about $318,000.

State legislators are still getting paid for living expenses for days they’re on break on top of their regular salaries for the session. And session staffers, who remain in the Statehouse for another two weeks, will get compensated to continue their work.

House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said so many legislators had made commitments, such as renting an apartment for the month of March, that he and Senate President Pro-tem Chuck Winder decided to continue to compensate legislators with per-diem rates during the recess.

We suppose to some people that sounds reasonable. After all, legislators have expenses that don’t go away just because they’re in recess.

Cry us a river.

Maybe if legislators knew that they’d have to pay their own expenses if they went into a recess because of a COVID-19 outbreak, they would have followed CDC health guidelines and worn masks and practiced social distancing.

But they didn’t do that. They went right on as if we weren’t in a pandemic, milling about without masks, eschewing social distancing, shaking hands, hugging.

Republican Rep. Heather Scott foolishly declared the pandemic over. Other GOP legislators acted as if it was no big deal, and Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said: “We keep calling it a pandemic, and a pandemic to me at my age, is a lot of people dying. And we didn’t see that” — even though 1,900 Idahoans and 553,000 Americans have died in one year.

It finally caught up with legislators by the week of March 15, when six House members tested positive for COVID-19. Who knows how many others have it or had it.

We find it ironic, as well, that some legislators, who have been railing against government health measures throughout the pandemic, suddenly rolled over and remained silent when the Legislature went into recess under its own form of a stay-home order because of the pandemic.

Apparently, they’re OK with health orders that protect their own health.

If the pandemic is over, if “a lot of people” aren’t dying, why aren’t these legislators protesting against the recess?

We hope that no one dies from COVID-19 because of legislators’ carelessness.

And if they’re not motivated by protecting their health and the health of others, perhaps they’d be motivated by their pocketbooks.

As it is, they’re held harmless, because the taxpayers are paying their bills for them while they stay home for two weeks and the people’s business languishes.

Since we’re the ones paying for their carelessness, we expect them to follow the rules, wear masks, practice social distancing and protect those who work at the Statehouse and those who must come to the Statehouse to conduct business.

When legislators come back to town, we fully expect to see them wearing masks while in the People’s House.

Otherwise, if there’s another outbreak, don’t ask us to pay the bill again. Bedke and Winder should make that clear up front.

Legislators should be put on notice: No mask, no session, no per diem.

Online: Idaho Statesman


Dixon’s power play will cost you a bundle

April 8

The Lewiston Tribune

Idaho Falls Rep. Barbara Ehardt may claim the “main branch of government is actually the legislative body.” But Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay, has the hubris to prove it.

Others may challenge Gov. Brad Little’s authority to manage a once-in-century public health emergency.

Erasing the voters’ ability to pass their own laws at the ballot box is a chore his colleagues can handle.

As far as undermining the attorney general, stomping on the ability of local agencies to fight back against COVID-19 infections with facemask mandates or dictating to Idaho’s public institutions of higher learning what they can and cannot teach, Dixon is content to delegate such handiwork to lesser lights in the Legislature.

Instead, Dixon intends to walk out of this year’s legislative session with a good deal more clout than he walked in with.

Along with Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, Dixon is co-chairman of the Legislature’s Committee on Federalism. Sens. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston, and Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, are among its 10 House and Senate members.

In the two years since it was formed, the panel hasn’t accomplished much — and it’s slated to go out of business this year.

Instead, the committee’s membership wants a permanent lease on life. A bill to that effect already has cleared the House.

And Dixon wants to transform it into the arbiter of the federal government’s authority within the Gem State.

Tuesday, Dixon urged the House State Affairs Committee to empower his panel to nullify “federal executive orders, agency orders, rules, policy directives, regulations, acts of Congress or federal court rulings ... that go beyond the powers enumerated to the federal government in the Constitution of the United States.”

Here’s how it works:

Any legislator can approach Dixon’s committee with a complaint about federal overreach. If — as an attorney general’s review spells out —a majority of the panel’s members agree, the state and its political subdivisions — such as cities, counties and school districts — can not “take any action or use any resources to give effect or enforce the challenged federal action until a final determination is made. ...”

It then conducts public hearings and makes a recommendation to the full Legislature, which decides if the federal action is “outside the scope of federal authority.” Presumably, that could be months away — and given the proclivities of the current Legislature, there’s no guarantee that the challenge will be dropped.

That’s not to say the federal government doesn’t cut corners and deserves to be held to account. Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson successfully challenged actions of the Trump administration — such as a travel ban on residents from seven Muslim countries — in the federal courts because the former president did not follow the law.

But Dixon’s plan to unilaterally concentrate such discretion within a group of part-time state lawmakers is fighting a losing battle against:

- The U.S. Constitution. Embodied within it is the “Supremacy Clause,” which holds that the federal law “shall be the supreme law of the land.”

- The U. S. Supreme Court, which — unlike the Idaho Legislature — has the power to say what is and what is not contrary to the Constitution and the law.

- A century and a half of history. Nullification and its offspring, the Civil War, were put down at Appomattox Courthouse.

So, as the attorney general’s office puts it: “That temporary, and ultimately unjustified disobedience could lead to liability, even if a conflict between Idaho and the federal government never materializes.”

Like so many of his colleagues, Dixon chooses to ignore such legal advice.

“A lot of this will end up in court, I’m sure of that,” he told the House State Affairs Committee. “This is us flexing our muscles as a state that we need to do. And it is a growing argument throughout many states in the U.S., so I think we’ll see this popping up more across the country.”

Just in time, Gov. Brad Little has signed a bill replenishing the Legislature’s legal slush fund with $4 million.

If Dixon has his way, a lot of that money is going to evaporate pursuing this lost cause in the courtroom.

But what does he care?

It’s not his money.

Online: The Lewiston Tribune


We owe farm workers safety, security of pathway to citizenship

April 4

Idaho Press

After a tumultuous and vulnerable year for agricultural workers, it’s time undocumented farmworkers across the country are provided an attainable path to legal residency.

Nearly half of the nation’s farmworkers are undocumented, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We rely on their work for the food we eat and the milk we drink, including from Idaho farms and dairies. Yet they and their families must live with fear and uncertainty, knowing they could be deported at any time.

We urge the U.S. Senate to pass the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives passed for a second time in March. The bill, supported by 34 agriculture organizations in Idaho and hundreds more across the country, would give undocumented agriculture workers, their spouses and children a pathway to gain legal status. There are requirements for length of time worked in the industry and a clean criminal background.

The bill would also improve the H-2A visa program, which allows farms and dairies to fill gaps in their workforce by hiring foreign workers. Agricultural employers in Idaho have discussed with the Idaho Press their challenges in hiring enough workers and the lack of interest from the local labor force. The revisions in the bill would help them by increasing the number of available visas and green cards, allowing dairies and other year-round producers to bring in workers on three-year visas, and boosting funding for farmworker housing. It would also provide a path to citizenship for longtime H-2A workers.

Starting the citizenship process typically requires several years of legal residency. Even if someone who is undocumented has been here for 15 years working at an Idaho dairy, none of those years count — but they should. We’re happy to see that the Farm Workforce Modernization Act would change that policy. Allowing hard workers that prop up our economy to become citizens benefits us all.

Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho has helped shape this legislation because of what he’s heard from constituents. We applaud him for listening and taking action.

Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, will introduce the bill in the Senate but doesn’t support it in its current form. He has said he supports giving dairy farmers access to the H-2A program but won’t support amnesty for those who crossed the border illegally or overstayed a visa.

Simpson has pushed back against the notion that the bill offers amnesty.

“Let me tell you what this bill does,” he told Congress when the bill passed in 2019. “It legalizes the current workforce, as long as you get right with the law and have a clean criminal record” and can demonstrate specified work experience. “If you want to access further legal status, you work four to eight years in agriculture, then pay a fine and get in line while you continue to work in agriculture.”

Agricultural workers keep food production going year-round. People don’t just stop needing to eat. And these are the same folks who kept factories humming through the pandemic; there was no “working from home in sweatpants on the couch” phase for them. Our farm workers continued clocking long hours, harvesting crops and processing meat — often to their detriment, as we saw a number of early outbreaks at meat processing plants.

These essential workers are now hesitant to start the COVID-19 vaccination process, for fear of deportation. This highlights the constant, ebbing stress in the lives of the undocumented members of our community. They tread carefully through society trying to make ends meet, never knowing the thing that will expose them. Imagine the stress of always looking over your shoulder and continuing to contribute positively to the economy anyway.

The best way to support and appreciate farmworkers is to allow them to live full lives with legal residency. It’s long overdue, but we’re hopeful to see movement toward a real change.

Online: Idaho Press