As the Idaho legislature tries to adapt to the coronavirus pandemic with its own precautions, two-thirds of committees confirm that they will take at least some remote testimony this year.
Each chairperson overseeing a committee is given wide latitude on how to run operations day-to-day, including whether or not they’ll accept remote testimony.
Boise State Public Radio contacted the legislators chairing 21 of Idaho’s standing committees in the House and Senate over the past few weeks. Seven lawmakers didn’t reply to multiple requests for comment.
Just one chairman, Rep. Lance Clow (R-Twin Falls), who oversees the House Education Committee, said he would not take remote testimony initially.
“I led the pilot two years ago and it was not efficient and this was from specific sites,” Clow initially said in an email.
He's now allowing government agency heads and officials to offer remote presentations, as well as some remote public testimony.
Those who did not respond and the committees they chair include:
· Rep. James Holtzclaw (R-Meridian), House Commerce and Human Resources
· Rep. Fred Wood (R-Burley), House Health and Welfare
· Rep. Ron Mendive (R-Coeur d’Alene), House Local Government
· Rep. Marc Gibbs (R-Grace), House Resources and Conservation
· Rep. Joe Palmer (R-Meridian), House Transportation and Defense
· Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett), Senate Education
· Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens), Senate Resources and Environment
Some of the chairs of these committees are taking remote testimony on at least some pieces of legislation or administrative rules. Many will accept remote testimony on all bills. The committees that are will include a signup link on the electronic agenda available at the Idaho legislature’s website for both House and Senate committees.
Some legislators are excited to allow for testimony from those who live in the state’s far-flung corners hundreds of miles away from Boise.
“Given the distance my District is from the Capitol, I have been advocating for the use of remote testimony since I was first elected to the legislature, and see it as a valuable tool for citizen engagement,” Rep. Sage Dixon (R-Ponderay), who chairs the House Business Committee, wrote in an email.
“I’m sure we will have some bumps along the road during implementation, but it should be an overall benefit to our legislative process,” Dixon said.
Barring significant technical issues, Rep. Greg Chaney (R-Caldwell), who chairs the House Judiciary and Rules Committee, said he intends to allow anyone to sign up for remote testimony until he gavels a meeting into order.
“This year, there may be enough people who are unwilling or uncomfortable attending in person that we could risk excluding an important point of view on a judiciary committee issue without the aid of remote testimony,” Chaney said.
Some say they hope to eventually allow remote testimony on all legislation, like Rep. Barbara Ehardt (R-Idaho Falls).
“We may run into some kinks in the beginning, but I think that we can work through this,” said Ehardt, who chairs the House Environment, Energy and Technology Committee.
The ability to testify remotely before the Idaho legislature has even made its way into the federal court system.
A group of nonprofits and disability rights advocates sued Republican legislative leaders last month over their lack of COVID-19 precautions amid the global pandemic.
That includes the lack of a mask mandate or the guarantee that individuals will be able to testify remotely.
GOP leaders implemented capacity limits and physical distancing measures in committee rooms. They’ve also installed air purifiers throughout the building.
Testimony can still be shared with all committee members electronically.
Clarification: This story originally stated the House Education Committee would not take remote testimony at this time, but would at some point in the future. The committee has now begun to accept such testimony.
Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.
Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio
Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.