By Lyndsie Kiebert
As the debate over appropriate COVID-19 protocols and necessary pandemic response continues to rage in the Idaho Statehouse, the virus’ prevalence went from hypothetical to concrete as Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder announced Jan. 19 that a Senate staffer had tested positive for COVID-19 over the weekend.
Winder told reporters that the unidentified staffer came to work Jan. 15 showing no symptoms, and contracted the virus outside of the Capitol from a family member.
“She was here after that exposure for a short period of time,” Winder said, according to the Associated Press. “I know that she was wearing a mask when I saw her.”
Members of the Senate were warned of possible exposure Jan. 18, thanks to reporting by the Idaho Press, and a plan for recessing is in place in the case of an outbreak, AP reported.
Meanwhile, business continues as usual, with bills in their early stages surfacing in both the House and Senate.
Limiting emergency powers
A major item on the Idaho GOP agenda during the 2021 legislative session is limiting the Idaho governor’s powers during an emergency such as the COVID-19 pandemic. Two House bills — House Joint Resolution 1 and House Concurrent Resolution 2 — saw second readings on Jan. 20, each addressing a different gubernatorial declaration.
HJR 1 proposes a constitutional amendment stating that the Legislature “must be convened in special session by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives in certain circumstances,” rather than exclusively by the governor, as current law states.
HCR 2 “states findings of the Legislature and declares that the portion of the December 30, 2020, order regarding the prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people is null, void, and of no force and effect.” Both of the aforementioned bills were filed for a third reading.
In the Senate, a bill dubbed SCR 101 is slated to see its first presentation Jan. 21, and contends that “the state of disaster emergency declared by the Governor regarding novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is terminated, to provide that receipt of federal funds, benefits, or resources arising out of the state of disaster emergency shall not be affected, and to provide that the Governor may make or maintain declarations only to a certain extent.”
Also in the works is HB 1, which Idaho Press Boise Bureau Chief Betsy Z. Russell characterized as making “sweeping changes to the state’s emergency laws,” including, “limiting the governor’s emergency powers, requiring all emergency declarations to end after 30 days unless extended by the Legislature, declaring all jobs in Idaho ‘essential,’ forbidding the suspension of any laws or constitutional rights during emergencies, and more.”
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, asked bill sponsor Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, whether public health districts fell under the HB 1 restrictions, to which Monks replied he believed they did. Health districts across the state have received staunch criticism from conservative lawmakers throughout the pandemic for enacting mandates that many see as threatening personal liberties.
‘Locking in’ 2020 drug laws
Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, has proposed an amendment to the Idaho Constitution that would make any “psychoactive drug” illegal in Idaho during the year 2020 illegal forever.
The Idaho Press reports that Grow is fronting the amendment as a means to “protect the Idaho way of life,” with a plan to officially publish the list of controlled substances and their corresponding limits — as they were written in 2020 — into the state’s governing document.
“Neighboring states have legalized controlled substances, to the detriment of their children, families and communities,” Grow said, according to the Idaho Press. “This constitutional amendment prevents the erosion of Idaho statutes — as you know they can be changed each year — which currently control these substances.”
The Senate committee voted to introduce Grow’s bill with a single dissenting vote from Boise Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne.
Silver and gold
Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, proposed a bill that would allow the State Treasurer to invest Idaho’s money into gold and silver.
The Post Register reports that Nate presented the bill on the morning of Jan. 19, and the House State Affairs committee voted to formally introduce it.
“It is one of the more secure ways to hedge yourself against the inflation,” Nate — an economics professor at BYU-Idaho — said, according to the Post Register.
Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby was the only lawmaker to vote “no” on the bill, contesting that the return on gold is not worth the investment.
The Post Register reports that Nate received $1,000 campaign donations — the maximum amount allowed — from Eagle company Money Metals and, separately, from the company’s owner, in 2018. Money Metals is known to sell gold and silver.
For more information — including full bill texts, agendas and status updates — go to legislature.idaho.gov.
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