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Idaho Legislature Moves Toward Statewide Vote On Special Sessions

Idaho Public TV screenshot

The Idaho legislature is one vote away from sending to the ballot a measure that would add to its powers.

“We’ve been, in my opinion and many others, unjustly restrained by the inability to call ourselves into session to deal with, in this case, emergency powers and the appropriation of public funds. That’s what this is all about," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Winder.On Wednesday, a Senate committee approved Winder’s proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to invoke a special session. Only the governor has that authority, as well as the power to decide the issues the legislature can consider during such a session.

Winder and his colleagues are motivated by their experience during last August’s three-day special session. It was initiated by Governor Brad Little, who limited the agenda to election and coronavirus liability bills. They wanted to talk about his statewide emergency declaration but Little said no.

Winder says it’s time to rebalance power between the legislative and executive branches. He says Idaho has received more than a billion dollars in federal CARES Act money, but lawmakers have, for the most part, been left out of the discussions about how to allocate that.

Boise Democratic Senator Grant Burgoyne voted against the proposal, not because he disagrees with the sentiment. He says Winder’s proposal doesn’t have enough safeguards and he pointed to Oregon.

“I don’t want to be arrogant about sitting here in Idaho and judging the state of Oregon, but I have to say they’ve had some special sessions that struck me, were on issues that were not of huge import. I think we run the risk, especially in even-numbered years, of having special sessions that amount to no more than political grandstanding and campaigning in the general election," Burgoyne said.

The bill passed out of committee and was sent to the full Senate, where, because it’s a proposed change to the constitution, must pass with a two-thirds majority. It has already been approved by the House. If the Senate goes along, the measure would go for a statewide vote in 2022.

The same committee approved a companion bill that sets the rules for how the legislature would call a special session. Lawmakers would need 60-percent approval in both chambers. They would have to write a specific proposal that lists the reason for the session and the topics to be covered and deliver it to the Secretary of State’s office.

That bill now heads to the full Senate.