Friday, April 12, 2024

Special session helps voters, exposes ideologues

| August 30, 2020 1:00 AM

As extraordinary special sessions go, Idaho’s wasn’t all that extraordinary — unless you’re Ammon Bundy, who finagled his way into getting arrested twice.

Last week’s three-day gathering accomplished one nice win for every Idahoan. Encouraged by a virtually unanimous request from the state’s clerks — the people who oversee elections in all 44 counties — legislators decided to let them count absentee ballots up to seven days prior to the Nov. 3 general election.

This is an important step in ensuring that every ballot will count and that chaos on election night should be minimized, considering this election will have enormous turnout. Cheers to our legislators for giving county clerks a fighting chance.

What could leave a bad taste in some people’s mouths is the House’s attempt to overturn Gov. Brad Little’s emergency declaration prompted by COVID-19. We aren’t arguing the merits of the governor’s disaster declaration at this point, and we sure aren’t ready to wade into the chilly waters inhabited by legislators who think the governor has too much power and they’ve got too little.

What we’re arguing is that the House was told by Attorney General Lawrence Wasden their resolution would not pass constitutional muster; that only the governor can call a special session, and only the governor can determine what will be on that session’s agenda. Ending his declaration was not on the agenda.

Had the full Legislature embraced the House resolution, a lawsuit would have ensued. That brings unnecessary expense to Idaho taxpayers and wastes time, perhaps scratching some ideological itches but not serving the general citizenship. And there’s more to this folly.

A lot of the griping from House members had to do with matters beyond the governor’s declaration. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, told the Idaho Statesman: “Most of the orders that people are concerned about have nothing to do with the governor’s orders.” That includes measures taken by school districts, cities, counties and maybe most of all, public health districts.

The other point made by Senate leadership — which took the appropriate step Wednesday night of basically outlining things for the governor to consider, setting a constructive stage for the 2021 session — is that the House’s measure could have cost the state serious money.

Senate leaders said that if passed, the House resolution potentially would have jeopardized tens of millions of FEMA dollars that President Trump and Congress had set aside for Idaho.

Finally, the Legislature did well in protecting schools and businesses from coronavirus liability. Democrats argued that the bill goes too far, particularly in protecting long-term care facilities that have been negligent. But all in all, the session was productive if not astounding. Unless you consider a swarm of protesters and a shattered glass door big news.