Just who should be in charge here?  

Last week Republican legislators set about limiting a governor’s powers in a time of pandemic. It’s an important issue that needs to be addressed–particularly if you see more long-term crises ahead. 

But they undercut their own arguments with a stupid move.   

Last Tuesday all seven Republicans on the Senate State Affairs committee– including Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder and committee chair Patti Lodge–voted to end Idaho’s current COVID-19 state of emergency.  Idaho has about $20 million in Federal funding to mitigate the emergency, so the committee added that “nothing in this concurrent resolution shall prevent the State of Idaho from receiving any federal funds…” (SCR101).  

That’s about equal to ending federally mandated testing in Idaho schools while telling the Feds not to cut related funding. Don’t our legislators understand that Idaho laws don’t overturn Federal ones?   

The State Affairs Committee is following up with a bill directly targeting Governor Little’s actions during the pandemic. SB1003 would forbid a governor acting during an emergency from restricting “the right of Idahoans to work, provide for their families, and otherwise contribute to the economy of Idaho.” Nor could a governor limit the size of religious meetings.  

The bill also stipulates that no emergency can last longer than 30 days unless extended by the legislature, and while in special session  the legislature may act on any relevant topic, including spending of emergency funds . 

The House chimed in Thursday by passing a proposed amendment to Idaho’s Constitution that would allow the legislature to call itself into special session with a 60% vote of both houses (HJR001).  Unfortunately, it failed to place any limits–the legislature could remain in session 12 months a year.  The bill’s lead sponsor Rep. Steven Harris said special sessions would cost about $21,200 a day–plus any expenses for security–but members’ leadership was worth it.

Friday Gov. Little struck back. At a press conference, he called on Idahoans to tell their legislators not to end the state of emergency which makes it possible for immunization to continue and National Guard members to help. 

And he–as House Republicans would later say–’maligned’ legislators. 

“I believe in my heart that what the Idaho Legislature is doing is harmful to our people and wrong for Idaho,” Little said. “I urge my partners in the Legislature to stop the political games and do what is right for the people of Idaho. Abandon the myth that the emergency declaration somehow shuts down Idaho” (KTVB).

Some changes are necessary. Gov. Brad Little has done well navigating a middle road, but not every governor may have his devotion and skills. 

I’d like to see legislation outlining the membership of future advisory groups so that it  includes members of the Joint Finance Committee. And the legislature should be able to call itself into session, but with limits. Perhaps no pay after three days yearly? (Many in management are used to such non-paid extra duties.) 

But I can’t join Rep. Charlie Shepherd in saying, “I have 100% faith in this body to do the right thing.”   

This is, after all, the body that spent the bulk of one session adding waivers the Feds didn’t accept to Medicaid expansion. And it just chose to fight in court for the right to deny members with disabilities to participate online. Overall, It has a dismal record of losing lawsuits. 

And what if legislators can’t agree?  We’ve been waiting six years for a new school funding plan and at least three for property tax relief.

Legislators mustn’t just throw ideas at the wall and see what sticks. They need to think– and then think again.