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Holiday goodwill before political storm

Staff Writer | December 22, 2020 1:07 AM

Boise’s legislative grounds took in some new visitors over the weekend, as the Thomas More Society on Saturday installed a nativity scene overlooking the Capitol building.

“More than just an opportunity to share our faith,” said Thomas Olp, vice president of the private group that promotes Christian nativity scenes across the country, “it is a chance to invite everyone to seek peace on Earth and goodwill to all, something we all need at the end of a difficult year.”

Though Gov. Brad Little won’t gavel Idaho’s legislative session until 2021, many local legislators are seeing the last days of the year — and the nativity scene on the steps of their home away from home — as a sign of brighter days to come.

Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, said she welcomed the nativity scene, saying it represents one of hundreds of forms of expression the Capitol sees year 'round. The steps of the Capitol, she said, are "the front door of the people."

"Those steps see all kinds of people from all walks of life," Souza said. "I think it is wonderful that we see that kind of expression, especially this time of year. All year long, there are protests, support groups that come out, religious groups that come out. It’s one of the things that makes this country something to celebrate.”

Relief through the holiday weekend or in the last days of a tumultuous 2020 won’t come from the Idaho Legislature, as the new session isn’t scheduled to convene until Jan. 11.

But local lawmakers are keeping the faith that the new year will bring changes, including to how the governor’s office declares and manages emergencies.

“There have been so many burdens we’ve had to endure this year,” Souza said. "But there are also a lot of lessons and silver linings."

She said some of those lessons include the need to update old laws that measure response to emergencies.

Rep. Ron Mendive, R-Coeur d’Alene, said pending legislation that would limit Little’s executive powers during a pandemic would be just one way the Idaho Legislature can give Idahoans relief.

“We have to change things around a little bit,” he said.

Some of those powers were put in place after World War II in the event of a nuclear attack, Mendive said.

"I think we need to look at the powers of health department and of the governor’s office, and what they can and can’t do," he said. "We can’t keep shutting down the economy. It’s killing our businesses.”

Little said he stands by his decisions to not only declare a state of emergency, but also to shut down a healthy portion of Idaho’s economy to weather the pandemic.

“I don’t know anybody that questions if we’re not having a natural disaster,” Little said during a Friday press conference in Hayden. “It looks like a duck. It walks like a duck. It’s an emergency.”

Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene, said he hopes the Legislature will stay in a giving holiday mood in mid-January, as many businesses that survived COVID-19 are still trying to recover.

“For a lot of people, it’s been a tragedy to watch what people have built with their own two hands get taken over that amount of time,” Addis said. “We need to help our businesses and our taxpayers.”

The governor and all three legislators, in the meantime, said they would try to enjoy the holidays at home with loved ones before the new session begins.

“I’m just spending it with family,” Mendive said. “We’re just going to enjoy the day together. It’s been a crazy year, and we don’t know what the next year will hold.”