Statehouse Reset: Following Rash Of Infections, Idaho Legislature Limps To Finish

Apr 6, 2021

The 2021 Idaho Legislature will reconvene Tuesday, April 6.
Credit Thomas Hawk / Flickr

In the wake of a rash of COVID-19 infections at the Statehouse, triggering an historic pause of the Idaho Legislature, lawmakers return to Boise this week in an effort to finish up their 2021 session. Indeed, the legislature will have to approve a spending plan for the 2022 fiscal year. But scores of other bills still crowd the agendas of both the House and Senate.

Boise State Public Radio's James Dawson visits with Morning Edition host George Prentice to preview the legislature's reset, reminding us to expect the unexpected.

“When we spoke to House Speaker Scott Bedke just before the break, he said that he's not going to implement any kind of a mask mandate going forward.”

Read the full transcript below:

GEORGE PRENTICE: It is Morning Edition on Boise State Public Radio News. Good morning. I'm George Prentice. Tuesday, April 6th, and the Idaho Legislature will gavel back into session today… that after an historic pause due to COVID-19 infections of some lawmakers. Boise State Public Radio's James Dobson is here to help us regroup. Jimmy, good morning.

JAMES DAWSON: Hey, good morning, George.

PRENTICE: I want to talk about some things that might happen in the final days of the session… but remind us of what absolutely has to happen before lawmakers go home.

DAWSON: The only thing that the Idaho Legislature is required to do before moving over to the new fiscal year every single year, and before they go home, is pass the budget. And so far, you've had several budget bills make it out of both the House and Senate. But that's something that they usually wait until the end of the session to do. Some lawmakers are potentially wanting to stick around a little bit longer to spend some of the money that comes with the new congressional federal coronavirus relief fund. Since Idaho is getting more than a billion dollars from that, that money does not have to be spent right away. The governor specifically said that he would wait to spend… or recommend spending any of it until he had time to consult with the legislature, which he thought was going to be in January. But maybe they want to be spending some of that money sooner

PRENTICE: So, they could leave some of these funds on the table and not consider some of these things until… what?  Next year

DAWSON: Even further. So, Idaho is getting one point nine billion dollars in COVID relief money. And much of that isn't going to get spent immediately. They have until the end of 2024 to use it.

PRENTICE: What might you be keeping a close watch on in the next couple of weeks?

DAWSON: A lot of things. So, obviously you have the bills that would limit the governor's power during an emergency situation. There are several bills dealing with that. It's kind of a mishmash of where they're all at. You had one that passed the House on a party-line vote, that would basically make it so the governor could declare an emergency, but couldn't necessarily change laws like he did during the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak last year. That's still waiting for a Senate committee hearing. What are they going to do with property taxes? The Senate killed the bill to cap local government spending, and there really hasn't been too much of substance aside from that. Something else: the bill that would make it, as the critics are saying, practically impossible to pass or get an initiative on the ballot. It's on the House floor.. passed the Senate with a veto-proof majority. So, we'll see what's happening there.

PRENTICE: Jimmy, remind us of how we got here. I lost count of how many GOP lawmakers got infected…plus staff, too.

DAWSON: It's a lot. You had six House members within a week. Which is why they shut down the session. And then you had two in the Senate that we know of, who contracted it during the session. They both recovered and came back. And then we had a smattering of staff throughout the House and Senate also contract the coronavirus. So, you know, at the beginning of the year, there were no real precautions taking place as far as a mask mandate or social distancing requirements. The legislature and top Republicans did install some air purifiers in committee rooms and in staff rooms. They also limited some capacity in the committee hearing rooms. But when we spoke to House Speaker Scott Bedke just before the break, he said that he's not going to implement any kind of a mask mandate going forward either. He thinks that things had worked well up until that point when you had a fairly sizable outbreak.

PRENTICE: I can't believe we're talking about 2022… but there is movement already. And at the state house and people looking at possible openings.

DAWSON: And it's not even like they can actually file the official paperwork to run for these offices. But you had Senator Mary Souza, who's a Republican in Couer d’Alene. She announced that she would run for Secretary of State. It seems like Secretary of State Lawerence Denney is not going to run for reelection. So, she wants to take that spot, which I believe Ada County Clerk Phil McGrain would face her in a Republican primary. And then you have Representative Paul Amador in that same district as Mary Souza wanting to switch to the Senate side. And so, again, this is more than a year before the primary. You know, 2022 is coming fast. But I had hoped to avoid primary news until, at least, a few months down the road,

PRENTICE: What's the advantage? I'm guessing there's fundraising. But there's got to be another advantage, this early, to be testing the waters?

DAWSON: Well, I think it's definitely something that you put your name out there. People know your intentions. It kind of avoids backroom jockeying, to some extent - maybe not as much as people would like. But at least if you throw your name out there, then you might head off potential competitors. Obviously, in the case of Amador, that Senate seat is open so anyone can run for it. And the Republican, Democrat, Constitutional Party, independent party primaries… if they want to.

PRENTICE: He is. Jimmy Dawson. Thanks for helping us make some sense of what, at times, is the nonsensical. We look forward to your reports in the coming weeks. Thanks very much. And here we go again.  Jimmy, have a good morning.

DAWSON: You too, George. Thanks

Find reporter George Prentice on Twitter @georgepren

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