Legislators fight for more power 

Idaho legislative committees appear to be competing for a Worst of 2021 award honoring the biggest legislative power grab.  

After the attorney general’s office, dozens of business leaders, and former Speakers of the House Bruce Newcomb and Mike Simpson spoke out against a resolution to end the pandemic emergency declaration, the Senate State Affairs Committee dropped SCR 101 which would have ended Governor Little’s emergency declaration. 

But somehow rising the loss of $20 million in pandemic aid didn’t stop the House State Affairs Committee from passing a bill that would end the emergency declaration and limit every future declaration to 30 days unless the legislature approves it. HB16 is scheduled for a third reading–and possibly a full House vote–on Feb. 4. 

Tuesday the Senate State Affairs Committee got back in the running by supporting SJR101 which would add all our current laws forbidding psychoactive drugs to the Idaho Constitution. This would not only make it impossible for Idaho citizens to legalize medical marijuana through an initiative, it would limit the power of future legislatures.   

Idaho is now the only state in which low-THC hemp and CBD oil are illegal. It’s one of 17 states that doesn’t allow medical use of marijuana for treating glaucoma or relieving the pain and nausea of chemotherapy. 

The resolution will probably get the 2/3rds vote required in both legislative houses. Getting the required simple majority from Idaho voters is another thing. A large faction of Republican voters do not like government regulations, period. And many Idahoans have known people struggling through chemotherapy. 

Friday the Senate committee added another item to its Worst of 2021 entry.  SCR103 aims to end the public health order which, among other things, limits the size of gatherings and mandates masks at assisted living facilities. The attorney general’s office says a concurrent resolution cannot rescind a governor’s orders, but the committee hired some private lawyers who–surprise–agreed with it. 

But that also put the Senate Finance Committee in the running.  With the legislature’s funds to hire outside lawyers nearly gone, the committee approved SB1022 to add $4 million more. It’s passed the Senate. 

The legislature is currently being sued for banning transgender girls from sports and for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing standard protections from COVID-19 or allowing participation from a distance. And we can expect a legal battle over the legislature’s attempts to limit executive powers.  

According to Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, lawsuits over Idaho legislation have cost Idaho taxpayers $8.5 million during the past five years. House Minority Leader Ilana Ruble lists several lawsuits the legislature lost–”the ag-gag bill, the same-sex marriage ban, the ban on the same sex spouses being buried together at the Idaho Veterans Cemetery, the ban on telehealth abortion, the abortion reporting requirement, and the law allowing oil and gas companies to seize people’s mineral rights without their consent.”

In most cases, the Idaho attorney general’s office had already warned of problems with the laws.   

A second entry from the House State Affairs Committee deserves a mention. HB65 would require a two-thirds vote of both legislative houses before anyone could relocate, repurpose or rename anything on public property named after an historical figure or event. 

I suspect the pressure for school teams to give up Native American names inspired this. If so, I can see young people working to change names like Trojans, Vikings and Knights just to participate in a controversy in the legislature.  

So we’re paying for legislators to expand their power rather than work to improve our schools, economy, and infrastructure?   

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