The Legislature returned to session Thursday after a motion to adjourn due to emergency failed on the House floor.
Moments after House Speaker Scott Bedke gaveled the House in session — beginning an attempt to wrap up business for the year — Rep. John Gannon stood and made an unexpected motion to adjourn.
“Because of this emergency, it is likely this Legislature must make a reasonable accommodation for those who are at high risk of serious consequences from the virus,” Gannon said. “Therefore, I move that this body adjourn until reasonable accommodation for those members who cannot attend can be made.”
The House immediately went at ease to huddle and discuss the issue. When called back to order, Gannon said the motion was to adjourn for one day.
Without any debate, the motion failed 6-58 and the House went at ease so legislators could haze Gannon by presenting him with a sort of trophy known as “the crow.” The trophy is given to legislators who make motions or sponsor bills that fail spectacularly on the floor, and is handed off from one legislator to another when a motion fails wildly.
Four more House Democrats were absent at roll call Thursday — Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, and Reps. Chris Abernathy, D-Pocatello, Muffy Davis, D-Ketchum, and Sue Chew, D-Boise. Rep. Steve Berch, D-Boise, and Sens. Maryanne Jordan. D-Boise, and David Nelson, D-Moscow, had already left the session.
“I am greatly concerned about the blatant disregard for all recommended safety precautions that the CDC, White House, and governments around the U.S. and the rest of the world have issued to slow the spread of the virus.” Nelson wrote in a written statement after leaving the session. “Other areas around the nation are going into mandatory lockdown and social distancing is the recommendation of all healthcare providers. We are putting the lives of people in this building at risk. The longer we stay, the more likely it is that we will also chance carrying the virus home with us when the session does finally wrap up.”
After that, the House went at ease so Republicans could meet behind closed doors.
The Legislature continues to meet — in what has become a scary and surreal Statehouse scene — amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic has disrupted life across the globe, as professional sporting events have been cancelled, schools have been closed in 39 states and neighboring Washington has shuttered bars and restaurants.
As of 8:30 a.m. Thursday, Idaho reported 11 confirmed cases of coronavirus — five in Blaine County, three in Ada County and one each in Twin Falls, Madison and Teton counties.
A day earlier, during a Wednesday morning press conference, Gov. Brad Little encouraged Idahoans to work from home and avoid groups of more than 10. Little stressed, however, that he was not calling on legislators to end the session early, leaving the decision to them.
There were 66 House members — plus secretaries and clerks — present on the House floor at roll call Thursday morning. There were 31 Senate members present.
Lawmakers had hoped to adjourn before Thursday, the 74th day of the 2020 session.
Last week, Bedke, R-Oakley, told Idaho Education News the House was expediting budget bills in an attempt to wrap up the session.
During a Wednesday morning news conference, Little told reporters he had spoken with legislative leadership and believed they had planned to wrap the session up Wednesday. “If everything works out, today will be our last day,” Bedke told the House Wednesday morning.
Both the House and the Senate toiled until after 8 p.m. Wednesday, but ultimately did not wrap up their business.
A budget stopgap bill
A last-minute bill — designed to make sure the state can balance its budgets on June 30 — quickly worked through the Legislature.
Senate Bill 1430 is a response to the global coronavirus epidemic, and its potential impact to the state’s economy. It gives the state’s Board of Examiners — Gov. Brad Little, Secretary of State Lawerence Denney and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden — the authority to withdraw funds from the state’s rainy-day account in order to balance the books for 2020.
The state Constitution requires Idaho to balance its budget, and the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30. But the escalating coronavirus crisis could affect Idaho’s budget in a variety of ways. For example, sales tax collections could tumble in the weeks to come, as Idahoans self-isolate and retailers close their doors during the outbreak.
On top of that, legislative leaders aren’t sure they could meet in person for a special session later in the spring, if the pandemic worsens. In essence, SB 1430 would allow the Board of Examiners to balance the books in the Legislature’s absence.
“What we’re trying to do is be as prepared as possible for what might lie ahead,” said Alex Adams, head of Little’s Division of Financial Management.
Legislative budget-writers expected to end the 2020 budget year with about a $57 million balance. If revenue collections drop, the state would spend down that balance first, then withdraw money from reserves.
If that happens, the state could start the 2021 budget year with virtually no balance, as opposed to that $57 million balance. “We’ll be in a world of hurt,” Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, told budget-writers Wednesday.
The Senate passed SB 1430 unanimously Wednesday evening, and passed the House unanimously Thursday.
Final K-12 budget passes
Working toward adjournment Thursday, the Senate passed one last K-12 budget: a $102.2 million bill to cover school administrative costs.
The vote was unanimous.
All seven K-12 budget bills — earmarking $1.9 billion — now go to Little.
Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.