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Idaho Senate Approves Special Session Constitutional Amendment

Idaho Public TV screenshot

The Idaho Senate on Wednesday voted to give the legislature permission to call itself into a special session in case of emergency. The state constitution doesn’t allow that, so the people would have vote on it first.When the Covid pandemic hit in Idaho, legislative leaders waited for Governor Brad Little to call them back into session. He has the sole authority to do that. But he didn’t bring legislators back to Boise until August. And then, many legislative leaders were disappointed that he limited their agenda for the two-day session.

So they’ve been planning since then to “re-balance”, their words, the relationship between the legislative and executive branches. One part of that is to give themselves the authority to call a special session, but that requires a constitutional amendment.

On Wednesday, senators voted 24-11 to create that amendment. But supporters, such as Post Falls Senator Peter Riggs, insist it has little to do with the governor’s actions.

“It is clear that we are trying to allow ourselves to help without making it a power grab, without making it an issue of a tug of war of control," Riggs said.

The proposal says lawmakers can only be called back if 60% of members in both chambers petition for an extra session. They must also be specific about which issues would be covered.

Legislators in other states, including Washington, have similar powers. Boise Democrat Grant Burgoyne says Idaho should model its proposal after Utah’s.

“They can only call themselves back into session for very limited reasons. Those reasons are stated in their constitution: persistent fiscal crisis, war, natural disaster or emergency in affairs of the state, necessitate convening and then they can call themselves back into session," he said.

Burgoyne and others say they want to make sure Idaho’s body remains a part-time legislature, not a full-time body as in other states.

The measure now goes to the House. If it passes with a two-thirds margin there, it would go to a public vote next year.