Idaho Gov. Brad Little signs four bills meant to limit governor’s emergency powers

·3 min read

Idaho Gov. Brad Little has signed into law four bills aimed at curbing the governor’s powers during emergency situations.

Little on Monday signed House Bills 391, 392 and 393, as well as Senate Bill 1217. The bills were introduced just last week, shortly after Little vetoed two similar bills also meant to limit the governor’s emergency powers. At the time, Little said the vetoed legislation could jeopardize public safety.

The trio of House bills bar the governor from limiting constitutional rights such as freedom of religion or assembly or from amending or creating state laws. The governor does not have the ability to create laws; however, the current state disaster preparedness act states that “executive orders and proclamations have the force and effect of law.” Marissa Morrison, spokesperson for Little, said the governor would still be able to issue such executive orders and proclamations under the new law.

The House bills also prevent the governor from restricting jobs during an emergency based on job type. The designation of “essential workers” during the pandemic became a point of contention for some Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, who attended rallies across the state that declared all jobs essential.

The Senate bill declares all workers essential, requires the Legislature to extend declarations of emergency lasting more than 90 days when warranted, and prevents the governor from quarantining “healthy individuals who are not at risk of contaminating others with a biological, chemical, or nuclear agent.”

The bills push back against Little’s actions during the pandemic, which stirred opposition from many in his own party.

Little had not issued a statement on his signing of the bills as of Tuesday morning.

Last week, Senate Assistant Majority Leader Abby Lee, R-Fruitland, said the four bills were a “softer and lighter touch” than the two emergency powers bills that Little vetoed in April.

Those bills — Senate Bill 1136 and House Bill 135 — would have removed the governor’s ability to declare an emergency in case of natural disasters, required legislative approval to extend an emergency declaration lasting more than 60 days, and given the Legislature the power to terminate any emergency declaration.

“Let’s be honest — these bills are an emotional, knee-jerk reaction, because of anger about the pandemic and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year,” Little said when he announced his veto of the bills in April.

Still, the vetoed bills bore some resemblance to the ones signed into law by Little on Monday. They still bar the governor from altering Idaho code and declare all workers essential.

Little had acted on all other bills except one as of Monday evening: House Bill 389, which amends property tax law to increase homeowner exemptions. Critics have said the bill doesn’t offer Idahoans enough relief and could actually keep many Idahoans from qualifying for what’s known as the “circuit-breaker” property tax reduction program. Little has until 10:35 a.m. Wednesday to make a decision on the bill.

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