BOISE — Idaho government offices and services could start shutting down in June if the part-time Legislature refuses to adjourn and leave coronavirus-pandemic decisions solely to Republican Gov. Brad Little, officials said.
The scenario would jeopardize the effective date of some 200 bills, including 65 critical appropriations bills, that are set to become law 60 days after the Legislature adjourns.
The situation could mean money wouldn’t be distributed for state police, schools, air- and water-quality monitoring and more.
Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke says lawmakers are looking into the concerns.
Lawmakers have put forward legislation to have those critical measures take effect July 1 regardless, but attorneys with a watchdog group said that proposed law violates the Idaho Constitution.
The Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution spelled out the problems in a letter Monday to Little that was obtained by The Associated Press.
“If these bills do not take effect on July 1, it is possible agencies would need to cease certain services on June 12, 2021, as the personnel hours paid after this date are incurred in the fiscal year that starts on July 1,” Alex Adams, Little’s budget chief, said in an email to the AP on Tuesday.
Lawmakers have been spending time on social issues and a power struggle with Little this session. Little has vetoed several bills aimed at trimming his power and increasing the authority of the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Recently, lawmakers put forward legislation to extend the session until Sept. 1, although lawmakers could temporarily recess during that time. They also proposed a measure to add an emergency clause to any bills that lack one to have them take effect July 1 if the Legislature is still in session in early May.
That bill passed the House 64-1 last week and is now awaiting a vote in the Senate.
However, the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution said the state Constitution requires individual bills be amended, with those amendments needing approval in each the House and Senate.
“They can’t do it by a blanket piece of legislation,” said Jim Jones, a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court who helped form the Committee to Protect and Preserve the Idaho Constitution earlier this year. “They have to go in and do each bill individually, which would be a God-awful mess.”
In addition to budget bills, a raft of other bills wouldn’t take effect until 60 days after the legislative session officially ends. That includes legislation involving rape laws and foster care.
Bedke said he was aware of the concerns.
“They’ve raised the issue; we’re looking into it,” Bedke said. “Where were they in 2003 and 2009 when the exact same verbiage happened?”
The Legislature operated under similar legislation those two years when the session, for various reasons, extended into early May. But there were no legal challenges at the time.
The Legislature did add emergency language this year to a number of bills to have them take effect when signed by the governor. That includes an appropriation bill for the Legislature as well as $4 million for the Legislative Legal Defense Fund — money used at the discretion of leaders in the House and Senate for legal fees involving outside opinions and to pay attorney fees in court cases.
Jones said the main problem with the current Legislature is that the Idaho Constitution is set up to have a part-time Legislature that operates from January to March.
“This Legislature does not seem to give a whit about the Idaho Constitution or the fact that they have to act within its limitations,” Jones said.