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Unfinished business awaits Idaho Legislature

by CRAIG NORTHRUP
Staff Writer | April 4, 2021 1:00 AM

The Idaho House had a full docket heading into the morning of March 19. The agenda called for an extensive laundry list of bills up for third readings — items that could see floor debate and votes as early as that very day. Issues ranging from the citizen’s initiative process to a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder to legalize certain drugs. It was, among other things, a busy day.

But no sooner had the invocation blessing the body of lawmakers finished than the day’s proceedings abruptly ended with the swing of a gavel. The House, with work to be done and budgets to pass, would recess. Less than an hour later, the Senate would follow suit, both itineraries interrupted by a COVID-19 outbreak.

That was two weeks ago. On Tuesday, the Idaho Legislature will reconvene to finish their work. While the House and Senate usually wrap up the last week of March, the pandemic will force this session to continue well into April — and maybe beyond.

“My anticipation is, we’re going to get through the work we’ve already started,” Rep. Jim Addis, R-Coeur d’Alene, told The Press. We’re hoping to finish by the end of April, but it takes time to get the bills across the Rotunda and get [the Senate’s] work done.”

Among the 125 combined bills facing a third reading in the House and Senate Tuesday include:

— HJR 4, which calls for a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds approval of both the House and Senate to legalize Schedule 1 and Schedule 2 narcotics. Schedule 1 drugs include marijuana, heroin and hallucinogenic mushrooms, while Schedule 2 drugs include methamphetamine, cocaine and oxycodone.

— SB 1087, which would push the legal smoking age in Idaho from 18 to 21.

— SB 1183, which, in most cases, would prohibit abortions in Idaho once fetal heartbeats have been detected.

Plenty of legislation is still flowing down the Boise pipeline, as well. Bills that could eventually come up for debate include additional a bill that would prohibit providing college credit for students who vote, a proposed voter identification law and a bill that would request the federal government sanctions China for what it considers crime against humanity and the emergence of COVID-19.

The bill that has generated perhaps the most public comment this session could see a hearing as early as this week. Senate Bill 1110 would require citizen initiative campaigns to gather six percent of the voting population’s in each of the state’s 35 districts. Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, carried the bill through the Senate, where it passed 26-9. Addis is now navigating the legislation into its third reading in the House.

“My anticipation is, it will pass the House,” Addis said. “It’s an emotional subject. I get it. It’s emotional. The reason I’m carrying it is, to me, this is an inclusive bill. People will disagree with me, but this will allow more Idahoans to have a voice in the initiative process.”

In addition, the House is facing a dozen appropriations bills up for a final reading as early as Tuesday. The appropriations look to fund everything from public health districts to the wolf depredation control board to the state’s IT department. Those 12 appropriation bills — and the nine appropriation bills on the Senate’s Tuesday agenda, represent the entire reason the House and Senate couldn’t abruptly adjourn the session for the year, just as they had in 2020 as the pandemic approached.

“From a constitutional standpoint, we can’t [adjourn],” Rep. Paul Amador, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Coeur d’Alene Press. “We’re required to pass a budget.”

Historically, the Idaho House seldom gets through such a rigorous agenda, often pushing legislation it couldn’t address. So many of the 125 bills are likely to get kicked down the road one day at a time until they can get scheduled for a vote or moved off the agenda for amending.

As for when the Idaho Legislature will call sine die and adjourn, that remains up in the air. For however long the two sides take to funnel through the bills on the agenda, add five days, the period of time in which Gov. Brad Little has to potentially veto any legislation on his desk.

Regardless of whether or not Addis’ hopes of an end-of-April timeline comes to fruition, rumors persist the Idaho Legislature might never technically adjourn. While most bills limiting Little’s executive powers during the COVID-19 pandemic never hit paydirt, SJR 102 — a bill that would empower the House and Senate to call itself into session — has already passed the Senate and awaits a vote in the House. But should that legislation stall, refusing to sine die is still on the table.

The House and Senate both reconvene Tuesday at 11 a.m.