IDLEG special session nears as some worry of creep into ‘full-time’ lawmaking body

By Zach Hagadone
Reader Staff

As the Idaho Legislature prepares to reconvene in a special session Monday, Nov. 15, there are a number of questions surrounding what it might accomplish — specifically, its express aim to push back against federal COVID-19 vaccine mandates, as well as taking up the matter of an Ethics Committee recommendation that White Bird Republican Rep. Pricscilla Giddings be censured and removed from a committee position. Giddings went before the Ethics Committee earlier this year to answer for her posting on social media of the identity of a 19-year-old legislative staffer who accused former-Lewiston Republican Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who resigned amid the allegations and was arrested in the fall on a felony warrant for rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object.

In a message to Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, Idaho Attorney General Chief Deputy Brian Kane weighed in on the challenges posed by the 2021 legislative session and the Idaho House decision not to adjourn sine die in May, instead going into an extended recess that “is unique and without precedence,” the AG’s office wrote.

The Idaho Legislature is a part-time body, composed of citizen-lawmakers, who convene for only a short period beginning in January and generally adjourning as a bicameral body in March or April. In recent years — and especially in the past year — those sessions have grown longer and longer, stretching into May and even including special sessions, such as the one planned for Nov. 15, focused on a narrow band of predominantly right-wing causes.

That has been a hobbyhorse of certain lawmakers, including Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, who did not respond to a request for a comment on the upcoming special session. She has been in the forefront of two failed attempts to convene a quorum of legislators in Boise to oppose such policies as COVID-19 mitigation policies by Gov. Brad Little and federally mandated vaccines for a range of employees in government and large companies. Embedded in the argument has been the notion that the Idaho Legislature should have the power to put itself in session without approval from the governor.

“I did not sign up for this, being a full-time Legislature,” Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, said in April, as quoted by the Idaho Statesman. “I would like to get out of here, and I would like to not come back until next January.”

Furthermore, the Statesman quoted former Idaho Attorney General and retired Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones: “When I was attorney general, I saw what appeared to be an unsavory tendency on the part of the Legislature to try to grab every ounce of state power that they could get. It’s gotten much, much worse.”

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