BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Republican-dominated Senate on Monday failed to override GOP Gov. Brad Little’s veto of a measure seeking to curb a governor’s power to respond to emergencies like the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate voted 23-12, failing by one vote to get the two-thirds threshold needed. It came after Little vetoed the legislation on Friday with support from four former governors and said he planned to veto a similar House bill. That veto had not yet been announced Monday, and it wasn't clear if the House measure had reached his desk. The Senate's failure to override the veto puts the survival of the second bill in doubt.
“It was good piece of legislation and a light touch on the emergency powers of the governor,” said Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder, expressing disappointment after the vote. “We think the Legislature has a role to play and that we had something that would work. But it didn't, so we will move on."
The pandemic spurred the legislation, with lawmakers in Idaho and several other states taking aim at rules intended to stem the spread of the virus, like limiting gatherings and nonessential travel. Idaho lawmakers were especially incensed that Little imposed a statewide stay-at-home order last spring that classified some workers as nonessential to try to reduce infections as hospital systems neared collapse.
Supporters of the measures said the governor has too much power during emergencies. Opponents said the Legislature shouldn’t have emergency authority because it would be too slow to act during a time of crisis.
Both bills would allow a governor to declare an emergency and extend it past 60 days, but only to ensure federal funding. Both would require any restrictions accompanying a governor’s order to expire after 60 days unless renewed by the Legislature.
They also would prevent a governor from imposing some restrictions. A governor’s emergency order couldn’t prevent people from going to work or gathering, including for religious services. An order also couldn’t quarantine healthy people.
The vetoed Senate legislation targeted a governor’s emergency powers during human-caused events, such as a terrorist attack. The House bill targets a governor’s authority during localized natural disasters such as wildfires and flooding.
The Senate's failure to override the veto is a blow to legislative leaders who made curbing the governor’s emergency power a priority this session. The two chambers coordinated efforts over the last several months to pass both bills.
“We don't believe as Idahoans that any one individual should have unlimited power, whether there's an emergency or not,” Republican Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon argued on the chamber floor. “That there should not be power exercised without appeal to our citizens to shutter businesses, limit citizen movements or stop them from attending school or church."
Democratic Sen. Grant Burgoyne argued that the state could lose federal emergency money if the measure became law and the Legislature failed to act during an emergency.
“What we do here today is to make a decision not only about the past, not only about the present, but about the future,” he said.
He argued the legislation was overly restrictive and would handcuff the governor’s “ability to take timely and necessary action to help Idaho during future emergencies.”
Also this year, lawmakers tried to make it more difficult for citizen initiatives to get on the ballot, a process that voters have used as a check on the Legislature.
Little signed the ballot initiative bill into law Saturday, and opponents say it will be challenged in court.