Mark Harris

Sen. Mark Harris

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A few weeks ago, the Senate Pro Tempore and the Speaker of the House created and convened three joint House and Senate working groups to work on issues that are affecting the state of Idaho and our citizens caused by the COVID pandemic. These three joint working groups came up with five recommendations that included issues dealing with the upcoming November elections, liability concerns regarding businesses and schools, and discretionary funds for education. These five issues were sent to the Governor with the request that he call a special session. I was privileged to serve on the joint committee that studied and recommended the proposals dealing with elections.

On Aug. 19, Governor Little issued a Proclamation for an Extraordinary Session of the Legislature to be held on Aug. 24, to deal with three of the five requests we sent to him. These three issues ended up being the two election proposals and the liability proposal. The special session finished on the Aug. 26.

Our county clerks in Idaho are looking at a significant increase in absentee ballots for the November elections and there is a concern that there will not be enough poll workers to conduct the elections. To address these problems, we created legislation that will allow clerks to start counting absentee ballots seven days prior to election day without releasing the results until election night. The bill also allows the clerks to move their deadline to mail absentee ballots to voters from 45 days prior to election day to 30 days. This gives the clerks 15 more days to mail out ballots. This legislation (S 1001) will only affect the upcoming November elections. S 1001 passed both houses and was sent to the governor who signed it into law. I had the honor of sponsoring and carrying this bill on the Senate floor. The other senate bill (S 1002) dealing with elections would have let clerks consolidate polling places and create voting centers in the more urban areas throughout the state. The purpose was to ease some restrictions on “in person” voting. This bill passed the Senate but did not get through the House State Affairs Committee.

The issues regarding liability began in the House. This bill deals with protecting businesses, schools and other institutions from being sued due to the coronavirus. This bill (H 06) also passed both houses and was sent to the governor who signed it into law. This bill includes a sunset provision that will let it expire. There was also another bill (H 01) that came from the House that protects the right of our citizens to vote in person if they so choose. This bill passed both houses. To date, the governor has not yet decided on this legislation.

The House also produced a concurrent resolution (HCR 1) that attempted to end the emergency disaster declaration. This resolution did not fit within the parameters set in the Idaho Constitution governing special sessions (Article IV Sec 9). This conclusion was backed up by two independent legal views. Even though we agreed with the substance of the resolution, it was tabled by the Senate due to the fact it was unconstitutional for us to consider it.

This Extraordinary Session was interesting and had its share of protesters and disruptions. However, the issues that the governor stated in his proclamation were taken care of. There are other pressing issues that will have to be dealt with during the next regular session of the legislature that the COVID issue has brought to light. These issues include some changes to Idaho code that contradicts the Idaho Constitution regarding the powers and duties of the legislature. Other issues that will be looked at are limits to the power of the governor. These issues will take longer to deal with, and great care needs to be taken to make sure things are done correctly and in line with the Idaho Constitution. There is a lot of work to do and the Idaho State Senate will work hard to protect the rights and liberties of the citizens of Idaho.

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