Mark Harris

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This Legislative Session seems to be picking up faster than past years. Even though the first few weeks are devoted to reviewing Administrative Rules in Senate Committees, there have been several bills and resolutions already introduced. In the Senate State Affairs Committee, we have introduced three bills dealing with rebalancing power between the Executive and Legislative Branches of State government. Two of the bills deal with modifying definitions relating to emergencies, and the third bill addresses the authority of the Governor and the Legislature within the subject areas of extreme peril and man-made emergencies. That bill states that all Idahoans who work, provide for their families, pay taxes, and otherwise contribute to the economy, are deemed essential. The bill also states that any declaration of extreme peril must end after 30 days unless the Legislature, by concurrent resolution, extends the declaration. This bill also prohibits any governmental agency from imposing restrictions on the lawful possession, transfer, sale, transport, storage, display, manufacture or use of firearms or ammunition. The proposed legislation also protects the right of citizens to assemble and worship as they wish. We will have a hearing on these bills early next week.

The Senate State Affairs Committee also heard and passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 101 (SCR 101). This concurrent resolution would end the Emergency Declaration in the State of Idaho relating to the COVID pandemic. The resolution also states that the Governor may make or maintain declarations only to the extent required to continue to receive Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding arising out of COVID-19 but may not use such declaration to impose restrictions on the citizens of Idaho.

The issue we are currently facing is that the State of Idaho has seven disasters that are still in an active status. In other words, there are still payments being made from the federal government. These disasters go back a few years and involved floods, fires, and drought. There is a possibility that by passing concurrent resolutions to end emergency declarations, those FEMA funds would be put in jeopardy of being shut off. Regarding the current COVID disaster that President Trump declared, the States are receiving federal funds to help fund things like hospitals and National Guard deployments. These funds have also been used by school districts, and some cities and counties.

We have heard from many of our constituents who shared their strong desire to end the current emergency declaration. The Senate has been working with House leadership to do just that. However, we are discovering that many of the things people are upset about such as mask mandates and social distancing rules will not be affected or ceased by an end to the emergency declaration. These orders fall under State Public Health Orders and Cities and Public Health Districts. As a result, we are currently drafting legislation to address these areas.

There is still a lot the Legislature is learning about this issue and we do not want to cause any unintended consequences or further harm to our citizens and businesses. As we go forward, your calls, emails, and input are always welcome! You can reach me at: mharris@senate.idaho.gov.

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