The Idaho Senate has voted to put limits on the governor’s powers during declared emergencies, such as the pandemic.
Legislative leaders came to Boise this session unhappy that the governor has kept Idaho in a state of emergency since the start of the pandemic.
They wish they had more of a say in how federal emergency money has been spent. They’ve been exploring ways to re-balance the power relationship between the two branches of government.
The bill approved on Friday suggests ways to do that. The bill’s co-sponsor, Sen. Kelly Anthon [R-Burley], says it prohibits the governor from requiring businesses to close during an emergency.
“Restrictions on our people’s ability to work and provide for their families must be specifically tied to the natural disaster, limited in duration, and not put forward as a blanket, unlimited prohibition," he said.
The bill requires any disaster declaration by the governor to last only 60 days, unless the declaration is necessary to secure outside funding. Then, it says, the legislature shall have the option of extending it.
Another co-sponsor, Sen. Chuck Winder [R-Boise], says it’s nothing personal against the current governor. He says it’s not meant to get even with him. It’s looking to the future.
“Should any person have unlimited authority for an unlimited amount of time to be able to place restrictions on us, on our ability to make a living, on our ability to educate our children, on our ability to go to church and worship," he said.
Opponents, such as Sen. Grant Burgoyne [D-Boise], say the current system works fine, that the governor is in place to act quickly during an emergency, something the legislature as a deliberative body isn’t equipped to do. He questions the motivation.
“Do we mean to change behavior or do we mean to make a statement? I don’t know," he said.
The bill passed the Senate 25-10 on Friday. A similar but not identical version passed the House by a two-to-one margin. This bill will go back there next for reconsideration.