Governor: House Recess Will Cause Idaho Government Problems

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The decision of the Idaho House to recess rather than officially adjourn like the Senate will create significant challenges for keeping state government running, Gov. Brad Little said Thursday.

“An unknown end-of-session date and important work left undone create major dysfunction in state government, namely with the implementation of administrative rules," the Republican governor wrote in a statement about the 2021 legislative session.

“I know that’s not an exciting topic, but it comes down to the nuts and bolts of state government and our ability to provide service to Idahoans," he said.

The arcane but important administrative rules involve everything from licensing critical care nurses to environmental protections to hunting and fishing tags.

Alex Adams, Little’s budget chief, said all those rules expire June 30 because the Legislature hasn't extended them. That means time-and resource-consuming public hearings will be needed to keep the rules in place.

“As this is the third time in state history that this has occurred – and the third straight year at that – we have grown accustomed to re-promulgation of rules to ensure continuity of the services citizens expect,” Adams said in an email to The Associated Press.

The legislative session wrapped up late Wednesday after a record 122 days, the longest legislative session in Idaho history, eclipsing the 118-day session of 2003.

“That’s not something anyone should aspire to happen. This is Idaho, not Washington, D.C.,” Little said.

Little could call the Legislature back into session if both chambers had adjourned. But House Republicans were wary after adjourning last year and being left out of decisions made by Little when the pandemic reached Idaho.

Little issued a temporary stay-at-home order when COVID-19 cases threatened to overwhelm hospitals, an action some lawmakers disagreed with. Lawmakers have also said they should have had a role in spending $1.25 billion the state received early last year in federal coronavirus rescue money.

“It is important to remember that no one is looking to create a full-time Legislature, but we must make sure we can fulfill our constitutional responsibilities should the unforeseen occur again,” Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said in a statement.

An Idaho attorney general's opinion released Thursday said it appears both chambers haven't agreed to officially end the session.

“It is essential to note that the scenario currently presented is unique and unprecedented in Idaho,” Chief Deputy Brian Kane wrote. “The Legislature's decision to pursue this course of action causes risk which would result in a reviewing court concluding differently.”

Jim Jones, a former chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court as well as a former state attorney general, said his reading of the Idaho Constitution indicates both chambers are officially adjourned after a recess goes past three days.

Jones is seeking the state's OK to collect signatures for a referendum that would place a ballot initiative law passed earlier this year by the Legislature before voters on the November 2022 ballot.

Under that law, signatures for the referendum need to be collected within 60 days of the Legislature adjourning.

Jones questioned the move by the House to recess rather than adjourn.

“Are they dong the people's work? I don’t think so,” he said.