This year, the goings-on at the Capitol are simultaneously the same as they’ve always been and at the same time very different. We feel the continuity of past years through passionate collaboration on legislation and hearing from you, the people. I recognize that the current emergency prevents many from participating in the process, please do not hesitate to contact me should you need assistance in participating in the Session.
COVID at the Capitol
Early in the session, Representative Muffy Davis introduced a motion that would allow legislators with physical or health impairments to participate in the session from home. After 11 months of adjusting to the new normal brought about by COVID-19, we have come to learn that many jobs can be done from a safe distance, and our work at the Capitol is no exception. Despite the feasibility of participating from home, Rep. Davis’s motion was blocked on a party-line vote. There is no reason we cannot make reasonable accommodation for anyone, especially those that may be at a higher risk of contracting or developing a severe case of COVID, to participate at a distance this session. The absolute refusal to take into account the needs of members of the legislature is incomprehensible. The vote against Rep. Davis’s motion occurred just moments after the JFAC voted to approve an additional $27 thousand dollars in general funds, which would be added to the $1.4 million dollars already spent in enhancing the audio/visual communication improvements within the Capitol to allow for remote participation during the 2021 Legislative Session. I find it appalling that we voted to spend the money to provide for remote access, yet won’t extend that privilege to some of our most vulnerable colleagues.
House Bill 1
This week, a concerning bill was brought forward by Representative Monks. The bill, HB1, would significantly alter the Governor’s ability to act during a state of emergency. Limiting the Governor’s ability in this way presents unnecessary challenges to the state. Should the bill be passed, it would change the way that Idaho responds to a crisis worthy of a state of emergency. Rather than allowing for the Governor to simply issue an emergency declaration for the duration of the crisis, allowing access to critical funds and resources, the bill would amend the process so the emergency declaration could be issued but would be highly constrained. In addition, the declaration would need to pass through the legislature in order to be extended beyond 30 days. This not only creates a much more lengthy process, but it also subjects the crisis to partisan politics. In a crisis such as COVID-19, the governor would not be able to take the steps necessary to protect individuals in the state. This alarming bill needs to be stopped. We have already lost too many Idahoans to COVID and we do not need to put more people at risk by creating a more lengthy, partisan, and frankly unnecessary process. In an emergency, we need decisive action, and this only creates additional barriers to respond accordingly.
With the third week of the session nearly over, I am anxious to see what new legislation will be brought forward in the coming weeks. It is already clear that this will be a different session and one in which I hope we can keep everyone in the building safe while also fighting for the needs of hard-working Idahoans.
As always, do not hesitate to reach out!