Idaho governor signs bills trimming emergency powers
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed four watered-down versions of previous bills that he vetoed on limiting a governor’s powers during declared emergencies such as the coronavirus pandemic.
The Republican governor signed all four bills Monday and took the rare step of sending transmittal letters to the Legislature explaining his reasoning.
Little wrote that the bills he signed, unlike the bills he vetoed, do not impair a governor’s ability to protect Idaho residents.
Lawmakers are angry at actions Little took last year at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, including a temporary stay-at-home order as COVID-19 patients threatened to overwhelm hospitals.
Lawmakers were incensed that the order prevented church gatherings and that some workers, were declared “nonessential,” a term lawmakers found objectionable.
Lawmakers also said they should have played a role in spending the $1.25 billion that the state received early last year from the federal government in coronavirus relief money.
Three of the bills signed by Little originated in the House and one in the Senate.
The Senate bill dealt with “extreme” emergencies that, if involving 12 or more counties and lasting longer than 90 days, would require the involvement of the Legislature.
The Senate bill “preserves the ability of future Governors to take timely and necessary action to protect Idahoans in future extreme emergencies, such as destructive earthquakes and cyberattacks, while also creating a responsible process to ensure the legislature is involved and able to assist with the state’s response efforts,” Little wrote.
The three House bills focused on more localized emergencies such as wildfires and floods.
The first bill sought to prohibit a governor from creating or amending laws. The second required that restrictions on people going to work “be narrowly tailored to not place restrictions based on job type or classification.” The third ordered that constitutional rights, such as the freedom to assemble and the freedom of religion, cannot be suspended because of a declared emergency.
“I also fully support the addition of language emphasizing that our constitutional rights as citizens of this state continue to exist during declared emergencies and that any restrictions on those rights must be both narrow and necessary,” Little wrote to lawmakers.
The signed bills, particularly the House bills, do not require the involvement of the Legislature during emergencies anywhere near the extent of the vetoed bills.
The vetoed bills would have allowed a governor to declare an emergency and extend it beyond 60 days, but only to ensure federal funding.
They also would have required any restrictions accompanying a governor’s order to expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature — meaning the Legislature would have to be called back into session if it had adjourned for the year.
Little in one of his veto messages wrote that the Legislature had attempted to take work that is exclusively assigned to the executive branch, a violation of the separation of powers defined in the state constitution.
Little in his letters about the bills he signed thanked lawmakers for helping to improve and modernize statutes that some lawmakers have called relics from the era of the Cold War, the post-World War II rivalry between the United States and the former Soviet Union.