Senator Regina Bayer - District 21
Dear District 21 Voters, Constituents, & Friends,
I would like to take this opportunity to share my thoughts regarding the Extraordinary Special Session of the Idaho State Legislature that recently took place August 24-26, 2020.
Like you, I have read numerous articles and listened to countless people reporting on the three days of activity. Some information is accurate, but some is not.
The Governor issued a Proclamation on August 19, 2020 convening a special session of the Legislature in which he enumerated three specific topics to be considered: absentee voting and in-person polling locations during the pandemic, and civil liability parameters.
As one recent legal opinion concluded, the purpose of the constitutional restriction is to give public notice that certain subjects will be placed before the Legislature so that interested fellow Idahoans could engage, discourage or support the contemplated legislation.
The Legislature, through joint working groups of both the House and the Senate, presented multiple issues that were supported to be included in the call for a special session. Those issues included ensuring the right to vote in person in the upcoming November election, process improvements for absentee voting, limiting the authority of public health districts to close schools, giving spending flexibility to school districts to address changing circumstances, and addressing liability concerns for businesses and schools as they relate to the pandemic.
Ultimately the Governor only included the issues of elections and liability in the proclamation for the special session. He chose not to include any issues dealing with education, including how to help parents and families deal with the ever-changing plans of their local school districts.
August 26, 2020: Sen. Bayer with ISP Officers at the Capitol.
Senate Bill 1001. This bill gives our county clerks a little more time before the deadline to mail out current absentee ballot requests, time they anticipate needing because of the large number of absentee ballots going out. This bill also allows clerks to open up the returned absentee ballots starting seven days before election day, feed them into the machine for counting but without ANY actual counting to take place before election day. This was considered to enable totals to be available ASAP at the close of elections. An amendment to the bill requires quite stringent security measures to protect those ballots 24/7, guarding the integrity of the ballot. This bill passed both chambers unanimously and it has been signed into law by the Governor. I supported this bill.
There was another bill related to elections, House Bill 1 from Rep. Priscilla Giddings, clarifying that Idaho voters “shall always be provided the opportunity to vote in person in an election, notwithstanding any declaration of emergency, extreme emergency, or disaster emergency by the governor.” As I listen to fellow Idahoans, this is one of the most important issues they have expressed to me. Many want to be able to vote in person. I voted in favor of this bill and it passed the House 67-0 and the Senate 33-2. Late on Monday, September 1, 2020, the Governor signed the bill into law guaranteeing at least one in-person polling location to be opened in each county in all future elections. That means Idaho could never repeat what it did in May 2020, when it held an all-mail-in election during early stages of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Senate Bill 1002. This bill had to do with consolidated voting centers. It did pass the Senate but failed to pass in the House State Affairs Committee.
A proposal came out of the Judiciary & Rules Working Group addressing immunity from civil liability. Prior to the start of the special session, I, along with most legislators, received hundreds of emails, mostly in opposition to the draft liability legislation that was included in the Governor’s proclamation.
Thanks to the voices of the people, there were multiple drafts of legislation presented and considered on the subject that prompted many hours of public testimony over three days. The bill which the Legislature ultimately approved was brought forth by Rep. Julianne Young, became House Bill 6, passed the House 54-15 and the Senate 27-7, and was signed into law by the Governor. It provides limited immunity from certain liability for businesses, schools, churches, and persons related to COVID-19. It specifically does not include immunity to any Idaho public health district, the federal government or any of its agencies, the State of Idaho or any of its agencies, except colleges, universities, and other institutions of higher education, nor any foreign government or foreign jurisdiction. I did vote for this bill.
One of the more controversial proposals of the session was House Concurrent Resolution 1 which would have instructed the Governor to terminate the state of emergency that the state has been under since March 13, 2020. I have received well over 1000 emails in support of terminating the emergency declaration, mostly addressing mask mandates and school re-openings. However, terminating the Governor’s emergency declaration would not discontinue mask mandates, gathering size restrictions, school re-opening requirements, etc. because those are mandates from local governments and public health districts and their authority is not reliant upon the State’s emergency declaration.
Supporters of HCR1 pointed to Section 46-1008, Idaho Code, which states, “The legislature by concurrent resolution may terminate a state of disaster emergency at any time.”
Opponents claimed their Constitutional obligation requires their support of Article IV, Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution, which states, “The governor may, on extraordinary occasions, convene the legislature by proclamation, stating the purposes for which he has convened it; but when so convened it shall have no power to legislate on any subjects other than those specified in the proclamation…”
Ultimately, the majority of House members voted for HCR1 and it passed 48-20.
The Senate acquired two attorney opinions regarding HCR1 and both came to the conclusion that the legislation was unconstitutional. So, when the bill came to the floor of the Senate, a unanimous consent request was made to “lay it on the table”, meaning the resolution was not considered by the Senate. I supported that request as I believe it was the constitutionally valid decision to make.
We have all sworn to uphold the Constitution and, when the Constitution and state statutes are in conflict, the Constitution must prevail.
I agree with much of HCR1 and I also want to see the Governor end the declared state of emergency. The Senate Republican Caucus also affirmed the majority of the substantive issues included in HCR1 and therefore supported drafting a Senate Resolution outlining the concerns with the ongoing state of emergency, including a detailed list of issues we intend to address in the next regular legislative session, which starts in January. This Senate Resolution became known as Senate Resolution 101. I do hope you’ll read the resolution and its Statement of Purpose because I think you will find it contains many of the concerns raised by Idaho citizens, myself and many of my fellow Idaho Senators.
Here is the list of issues we have resolved to consider in legislation:
A declaration that all Idahoans who work, provide for families, pay taxes, and otherwise contribute to the Idaho economy must be deemed essential in any declared emergency;
An amendment to the Idaho Constitution providing that, in limited circumstances, the Idaho Legislature may call itself back into session while remaining a part-time, citizen Legislature;
A limitation on the length of any emergency declaration of the Governor without the concurrence of the Legislature;
A limitation on the emergency powers and spending authority of the executive branch without the approval of the Legislature;
A prohibition on quarantining healthy individuals;
The ending of orders prohibiting Idahoans from attending places of worship;
Rescinding existing emergency declarations; and
A review of the authority of the public health districts and local government subdivisions.
Please know that I am working with fellow legislators in both the House and the Senate to prepare legislation addressing these issues that have become of major concern to Idahoans.
Our Capitol is open with simple rules of decorum, and everyone is served best in an open, professional setting.
The Statehouse was prepared prior to the session and had set up the capability for citizens to testify remotely and to listen in to committee meetings in different rooms within the Capitol to accommodate social distancing.
Our Idaho State Troopers are dedicated to protecting the safety of every single person who comes in to the Capitol and I believe they did an excellent job. I, for one, am truly grateful for their presence, their skill and professionalism.
Thank you for participating in the legislative process, for submitting your input and for reaching out to me. Though we might not always agree on everything, I am always listing to you and, rest assured, I will always support our Constitution. Thank you!