Legislative working group amends liability proposal ahead of special session

A legislative working group went deep into the weeds Friday attempting to amend a liability proposal ahead of this month’s special session.

Gov. Brad Little at a news conference on March 27. Sami Edge/Idaho EdNews

The joint House/Senate Judiciary and Rules Working group met remotely for more than four hours Friday. It was perhaps the last big hearing before Gov. Brad Little convenes the Legislature the week of Aug. 24 for what is officially called an extraordinary session.

Friday’s working group meeting featured 27 of the 105 legislators and, perhaps, offered a preview of the coming special session.

Liability protection amid the coronavirus pandemic is a big issue for school trustees and administrators who have been told insurance carriers likely won’t cover costs if someone catches COVID-19 at school and sues.

Friday’s conversation was all over the map, though.

The committee considered eight amendments that dealt with everything from contracts to the definitions of endemic and pandemic to blocking immunity from lawsuits for specific reasons. A majority of the group expressed support for the idea that protection from lawsuits would not be extended to China, or issues related to the distribution of a vaccine.

Some of the amendments conflicted with each other and the meeting was regularly bogged down over procedural and legal questions and deep, insider-type debates over wordsmithing.

At one point, a favorite legislative phrase “the belt and suspenders approach” was thrown around to suggest some amendments may be redundant and unnecessary.

The meeting itself was a little curious because of the time invested in debating and amending a proposal that the working group, by itself, has no power to pass into law.

Instead, it appeared co-chairman Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, was attempting to build consensus around the proposal to keep a special session more focused.

Little will issue a proclamation next week outlining the topics up for debate during the special session. Under the Idaho Constitution, the Legislature will not have the power to work on any other topics or subjects other than what Little outlines in the proclamation.

In addition to liability protection, Little has said the procedures for November’s general election are also likely to be addressed during a special session.

Earlier this week, the Education Working Group said it wants to look at school closure authority during the special session. That group also passed a proposal that would take authority to close schools away from public health districts.

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