Responding to a growing number of people requesting the upcoming legislative session be delayed until a vaccine is widely available, House Speaker Scott Bedke said it would take a two-thirds vote to change the rules.
Citing the coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Brad Little said last week legislators should seriously consider delaying the session or going remote, while House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, said legislators should postpone the session until a vaccine is available, Idaho Education News first reported Thursday.
Bedke, R-Oakley, issued a statement Wednesday saying he received a formal letter from House and Senate Democrats asking to delay the start of the session, which kicks off Jan. 11.
“Despite their request, we are bound to legislative rules, per the Idaho Constitution, that requires the passage of a Joint Resolution with a two-thirds majority vote to change the start date and terms of an Idaho legislative session,” Bedke said.
“We understand the concerns stated in the letter and House leadership has looked at all viable options to meet safety protocols within our existing rules.”
Republicans will have a 58-12 edge in the balance of power in the House when the session convenes after picking up two seats on Election Day. The Senate will again include 28 Republicans and seven Democrats.
During the organizational session earlier this month, legislators approved the same rules for 2021 as the rules that governed the previous session, which require legislators to be in their seats on the floor to debate and vote.
Legislators likely would not be able to find a two-thirds majority to approve a rule to delay the start of the session, Rubel said last week.
With the organizational sessional complete, it isn’t even clear there would be an opportunity to vote on a rules change before the session kicks off.
Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise, said it would only take a majority vote to pass a bill to allow remote voting and he thinks that might be a more realistic solution.
Democrats say their concerns come down to safety as the coronavirus continues to spread, pressure mounts on hospitals and deaths increase.
During the Dec. 2-3 organizational session inside the Statehouse, Democrats and some Republicans masked up. But many Republicans did not wear masks and some huddled in close groups while waiting to choose their floor seats.
“In order to participate and speak on the floor and represent our constituents, we’re being thrust into this very dangerous situation where we are surrounded in an enclosed space with a large number of unmasked people,” Rubel said.
Signs posted inside the Statehouse recommend but do not require face masks or distancing. Bedke told Idaho Education News earlier this month he would not issue any mandates telling legislators how to behave during the session.
In Wednesday’s statement, Bedke said legislative leaders are still working on the issue.
“We are continuously working on a viable solution that will provide the maximum level of workplace comfort for all members of the Idaho Legislature,” Bedke said. “We are duty bound to follow the Idaho Constitution and the rules of the Idaho House of Representatives and will continue to work within those parameters to find the best possible solution.”