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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Idaho Lawmakers Expand Legislative Power During Emergencies

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

After months of negotiations, the Idaho legislature has passed two bills in response to the pandemic that would reign in a governor’s power during an emergency.

The bills separate emergency declarations into two categories: one dealing with wars and enemy attacks and the other dealing with natural disasters.

Both would require the legislature to meet and approve any extension of an emergency after 60 days. That excludes any extension of an emergency solely for collecting federal disaster funds.

“They require, and I believe Idahoans deserve, that in those moments, the full array of our elected officials, our elected delegates, be brought to Boise to deal with those issues,” said Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon (R-Burley).

A governor also couldn’t bar people from going to church, limit gatherings or block the manufacturing of firearms and ammunition under the bills.

Lawmakers declared all jobs essential and put up roadblocks for any governor who might try to limit their ability to work. Any limitations would need to be narrowly tailored and couldn’t universally restrict employees by job-type or classification.

“This is about an immediate remedy,” said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Abby Lee (R-Fruitland). “It also provides a chilling effect. There are limited reasons why a governor should restrict the citizens of the state of Idaho for more than 60 days.”

But a few Republicans, like Sen. Jim Guthrie (R-Inkom), thought the measure dealing with natural disasters would hamstring a governor trying to handle an emergency.

He said it was like one of his friends fine-tuning a sputtering, but working, carburetor on his snowmobile in the middle of a trail.

“If something’s running fine, why are we tinkering that we risk losing a part or risk missing something and causing some unintended consequences,” Guthrie said.

Sen. Fred Martin (R-Boise), a self-proclaimed classic movie fan, compared lawmakers fixating on executive authority this year to a MacGuffin – a literary or film plot device necessary to move the story forward, but isn’t all that consequential on its own.

“Some of us seem to be so wrapped around this situation of what’s transpired with [Gov. Brad Little] that we’ve lost, maybe, what we should be here for,” Martin said.

Democrats questioned the constitutionality of the proposals.

Both bills passed with veto-proof majorities in each chamber and now head to the governor’s desk for consideration.

 Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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