Gov. Brad Little signed the civil liability immunity bill legislators passed during the special session into law on Thursday a day after the unusual session ended.
The issue of liability protection during the coronavirus pandemic was front and center during the unusual three-day special session that was interrupted by large crowds and occasional protestors.
Under the bill, a person, school district, college or university would have immunity from civil liability for damages or injury resulting from exposure to coronavirus. The bill would also grant immunity to corporations, churches, cities and counties. However, immunity would not be extended to Idaho public health districts, the state or federal government.
The liability issue divided education groups during the session. Leaders of the Idaho School Boards Association backed the bill and submitted written testimony, saying school leaders are worried about liability concerns as they reopen schools.
“Because liability insurance providers do not cover COVID-19 claims, any costs associated with possible litigation would have to be paid out of a school or district’s operating account or pushed onto the taxpayers with a tort levy,” the ISBA said.
But the Idaho Education Association strongly opposed the bill and said immunity legislation could actually be a barrier to providing safe schools buildings for students and educators.
“At a minimum, it sends a message that is exact opposite of what we should be communicating to our parents, educators, school districts and communities,” the IEA said.
The IEA called it “no accountability” legislation that is filled with flaws and trap doors.
SB 1001A deals with processing absentee ballots as the state braces for November’s election. That law gives poll workers more time to open and scan ballots.
As of this article’s publication, Little has not acted on House Bill 1, which would guarantee in-person voting opportunities and create new voting centers that people could use instead of just their normal polling place.
In a statement Thursday, Little thanked legislators for addressing liability protection and elections procedures.
“Your work has helped ensure our election will be safe and secure and that businesses, schools and churches responsibly operating during the pandemic are protected,” Little said.
Little, like the Legislature, also publicly thanked Idaho State Police, the Boise Police Department and Capitol security for their efforts. He said officers put their own health and safety on the line to deescalate volatile situations.
During the special session, several meetings were disrupted or delayed by large crowds or protestors. Idaho State Police reporting arresting four individuals for trespassing and refusing legislators’ orders to make room or vacate certain areas. Ammon Bundy, a rancher who helped lead an armed occupation of an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016, was arrested two days in a row for trespassing and then banned from the Statehouse for one year, ISP said.
Before the session was gaveled in Monday, a large crowd rushed the seating area above the House chambers, pushing past police and breaking a glass door in the process.
Little made a point to thank the citizens who attended without causing a disruption.
“You far outnumbered the individuals who infringed on an orderly proceeding,” Little said. “We will always outnumber the agitators who seek to stifle civil debate and harm our democratic republic.”
Legislators are now leaving town, but they’ll be back at the Statehouse soon enough. The next regular legislative session begins in early January.