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Politics & Government

Lawmakers Kick Off Staring Contest As Senate Adjourns For The Year

James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

After more than 12 hours of legislative meetings that lasted nearly until midnight Wednesday, the Idaho legislature moved into unknown territory.

State senators adjourned for the year, but House lawmakers want to leave the option open to come back to Boise before the year ends. The state constitution says neither chamber can recess for more than three days without the agreement of the other.

Before the final gavel on the west side of the state capitol, Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) congratulated his fellow lawmakers on a job well done this session, including tax cuts and a boost to transportation funding.

“In spite of the fact some will say this is the worst session ever in the history of mankind, well, maybe even … since prior to creation,” Winder said.

Democrats and a handful of Republicans attempted to adjourn for the year, but were vastly outnumbered in a 16-46 vote.

However the staring contest shakes out legally, lawmakers agreed that they won’t get paid while they’re not in session.

Already the longest session in state history at 122 days and counting, the recess in the House could extend until the end of the year, with some lawmakers – including some Republicans – saying it moves the legislature closer to becoming a full-time job.

The extended session has already cost Idaho taxpayers more than $440,000 from April 6 to May 2, according to the Idaho Capital Sun, though legislators will not receive per diem stipends during this break like they did more than a month ago.

Lawmakers took an extended recess at the end of March due to an outbreak of COVID-19 that sickened several lawmakers. One staff member was hospitalized.

The first four-and-a-half months of the year saw legislators at the Idaho Capitol rebel against Gov. Brad Little’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic. Several Republicans even questioned the pandemic’s existence.

After several drafts and two vetoes, House and Senate leadership passed a handful of bills limiting the governor’s authority during an emergency earlier this month. Little signed these into law this week.

An attempt to ban mask mandates passed the House, but failed to get a hearing in the Senate.

Far right lawmakers also led a successful push against including critical race theory concepts in public K-12 classrooms, as well as public colleges and universities.

That’s despite students, teachers and administrators – including some legislators – saying teachers aren’t compelling students to believe certain viewpoints found in social justice concepts.

Lawmakers shaved $2.5 million from higher ed institutes over concerns they “indoctrinate” students with social justice concepts, though some legislators wanted to see that figure rise to more than $20 million.

Fears of critical race theory seeping into the state even led House lawmakers to let nearly $6 million die in federal grants approved under the Trump administration that would’ve funded pre-K after the chamber previously rejected it.

That money would’ve been controlled by local collaboratives choosing which curriculum to include or which programs to participate in. Members of the collaboratives would’ve included local parents and teachers, as well as business and faith leaders.

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

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