Unusual Idaho legislative session ends in uncharted ground
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The longest ever Idaho legislative session has been filled with unusual events and ended in uncharted ground shortly before midnight Wednesday.
The Idaho Senate voted to officially adjourn while the House voted to recess up to Dec. 31.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon, an attorney, said that means Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke could potentially call the House back into session this year and, with a vote of its members, force the Senate to return as well.
“Under the spirit of the Idaho Constitution, it’s contemplated that we go home,” Anthon said of the part-time Legislature. “That we are not here in Boise year-round. Even if there can be a procedural loophole around that, there’s not a desire for that in the Idaho Senate Republicans.”
During the extended recess, lawmakers would not get per diem expenses. Wednesday marked day 122 of the session, eclipsing the 118-day session of 2003.
The Republican-dominated Legislature has been engaged in a bruising, months-long battle with Republican Gov. Brad Little over balance of power issues involving coronavirus pandemic restrictions and spending federal rescue money. The Senate is satisfied with the results, while the House has concerns.
The session included a two-week break when COVID-19 infected a half-dozen House members, mainly Republicans who typically don’t wear masks. And a freshman Republican lawmaker resigned amid rape allegations and after an ethics panel recommended he be expelled from the House.
The session resulted in a big income tax cut and rebate; a new property tax relief law rushed through in the waning days of the session that opponents say is deeply flawed and backers say is better than nothing; significant funding for transportation; and a new law that could lead to the killing of 90% of Idaho’s 1,500 wolves.
Lawmakers also took on critical race theory after conservative Republicans refused to pass a logjam of education bills that Democratic lawmakers called a hostage situation.
The bill that eventually freed up more than $1 billion in education money prevents schools and universities from “indoctrinating” students through teaching critical race theory, which examines the ways in which race and racism influence American politics, culture and the law.
The bill allows teaching critical race theory but prohibits forcing belief systems onto students that claim a group of people as defined by sex, race, ethnicity or religion are inferior or superior to others.
The Legislature approved and Little signed legislation aimed at thwarting a half-dozen executive actions by President Joe Biden to combat gun violence, including a move to crack down on “ghost guns” — homemade firearms put together from purchased gun parts that lack serial numbers to trace them and are often acquired without background checks.
Little also signed legislation making ballot initiatives much more difficult, requiring signatures of 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho districts in 18 months. The previous law required 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts in 18 months. The new law immediately drew a court challenge that will play out over the coming months.
Little has signed into law legislation that would outlaw nearly all abortions in the conservative state by banning them once a fetal heartbeat can be detected. Little signed the bill that contains a “trigger provision,” meaning it won’t go into effect unless a federal appeals court somewhere in the country upholds similar legislation from another state.
Notable legislation that failed included a bill to ban mask mandates. Little never issued a statewide mask mandate due to the pandemic, but some counties and cities did.
Lawmakers on a House panel voted to kill the popular Powerball game that offers huge jackpots amid fears of foreign participation. But negotiations to add Australia in 2021 and Britain in 2022 to Powerball broke down, meaning Idaho doesn’t need a change in its law this year to keep participating.
The House and Senate passed legislation allowing voters in November 2022 to decide if the part-time Legislature will be able to call special sessions. If voters approve, the Legislature could call itself back into session if 60% of lawmakers in each the House and Senate agree. Backers say the Legislature isn’t an equal branch of government without that power. Opponents fear it could lead to a full-time Legislature.