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Special session makes progress amid arrests

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | August 26, 2020 1:00 AM

An Idaho House committee went into the late afternoon Tuesday to produce legislation that would, if passed, limit civil liability lawsuits initiated as a result of COVID-19.

The House Judiciary Committee, working in a special session in Boise, came to a late compromise on language that would survive a committee vote before hitting the House floor. The bill would protect businesses, individuals and government entities from coronavirus lawsuits, provided those entities made a good-faith effort to protect people in establishments.

In the morning, the Senate passed a bill that provides elections offices the ability to process absentee ballots earlier, rather than wait until Election Day to process what Idaho’s county clerks unanimously believe will be a record-setting influx of the mail-in votes. That bill — SB 1001 — breezed through the House State Affairs Committee unanimously and will hit the House floor today for debate and a likely vote.

The House also passed House Concurrent Resolution 1, aimed at ending Gov. Brad Little’s emergency health protocols — including social distancing. The bill, which was approved in the House 48-20, was legislation Coeur d’Alene Rep. Jim Addis said he originally planned on voting against. But when it was his time to vote, he voted in favor of the resolution.

“I had seen it,” Addis said, “and I was fully prepared to vote ‘no.’ But this is one of those times where debate shed some light on this particular bill, which is why it’s so important for these bills to always come up for a debate.”

What changed his mind, Addis said, was the interpretation of the language from Idaho Falls Rep. Gary Marshall, a constitutional scholar who said he believes the bill could be passed while still adhering to the Idaho Constitution. Idaho's constitution dictates that only topics relayed by the governor’s office — Gov. Brad Little, in this case — can be voted upon in a special session. Little brought forth the topics of election rules and civil liability, but not emergency powers. Addis said COVID-19 management had become regional and local issues, which also altered his thinking.

“This in no way dissuades the locals from choosing to do something locally,” Addis said.

In a letter to Idaho Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasdan said HCR 1 wouldn’t pass judicial scrutiny.

“It does not appear that the subject of HCR 1 is within the Governor’s Proclamation for an Extra Session of the Legislature as required by Article IV, (section) 9 on the Idaho Constitution,” he wrote Tuesday. “For this reason, it appears that HCR 1, if passed by both chambers would carry no legal effect and likely be the subject of a successful legal challenge to its validity.”

The legislature will reconvene today.

While protesters weren’t as unruly as Monday, they did interrupt proceedings. Earlier in the morning, one protester sneaked into an area reserved for credentialed media and claimed to be a member before he was escorted out.

Later in the day, the House Judiciary Committee meeting was delayed for about an hour after another protester tried the same stunt. He was arrested to the displeasure of the crowd. His spot was then filled in that same media area by lead protester Ammon Bundy, who was taken into custody — reportedly along with two other protesters —shortly after the House adjourned for the day.