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2020 legislative session highlights, insights

| March 29, 2020 1:00 AM

By REP. PAUL AMADOR

Special to The Press

The Second Regular Session of the 65th Idaho Legislature officially adjourned sine die, Latin for ‘with no appointed date for resumption,’ on Friday, March 20. Officially it was the fourth shortest legislative session in Idaho’s history and was concluded under the growing cloud of the COVID-19 pandemic in Idaho and around the world.

Over the next several months I will write a series of columns highlighting and providing insight into the major outcomes of the 2020 Idaho legislative session, including an overview of legislative and budgetary actions. I will also attempt to provide an ‘insider’s perspective’ on the culture, structure, and practices of the Legislature to give you, the reader, a more nuanced and personal understanding of the government that works on behalf of you.

While I hesitate to add to the COVID-19 media overload at this time, I do think it is important to highlight the actions the Legislature took in response to the pandemic in Idaho before we adjourned.

Keep in mind, when the Legislature convened on January 6, the outbreak of COVID-19 in China was barely a blip on the screen, that literally seemed half a world away. However, several weeks later during a meeting of the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (the Legislature’s budget setting committee) there were several questions from legislators directed to our Public Health Directors on how we would respond to an outbreak in Idaho.

As the session progressed and it became increasingly clear that Covid-19 was becoming a pandemic and that it was not a matter of if, but when we would have cases in Idaho, conversations began in earnest between legislators, the Governor’s office, the Department of Health and Welfare and our Idaho Public Health Districts on how best we could respond as a Legislature.

The outcome of those conversations were monetary and budgetary policies we felt would best position the state to respond in earnest when an outbreak did occur and to shore up our state budget in the event of an extended outbreak of the virus.

First, Senate Bill 1400 provided $2 million in emergency funding that was made available immediately to stand up Idaho’s emergency response to the pandemic through the purchase of supplies, equipment, and other needs. Secondly two bills, Senate Bills 1428 and 1429 provided a total of $1.3 million to ensure Idaho’s government and state employees could weather this crisis by ensuring we have the technical infrastructure for employees to work in a decentralized environment. Finally, Senate Bill 1430 gave emergency authority to the Idaho Board of Examiners (Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and State Controller) the authority to utilize funds from the Budget Stabilization Fund (the state’s rainy-day fund) to ensure a balanced fiscal year 2020 budget as is constitutionally required, thus helping to avoid a costly emergency legislative session.

Whether these actions taken by the legislature prove sufficient to support Idaho’s response to the COVID-19 crisis are impossible to know at this time as the situation is changing daily, if not hourly. If the crisis does require additional legislative action, the Idaho Legislature would stand ready for the Governor to call an emergency legislative session.

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Paul Amador represents Coeur d’Alene in the Idaho Legislature. Email questions and comments to: PAmador@house.idaho.gov