Idaho Government Showdown: Little vs Legislature
Friday was a historic day in Gem State Politics. Idaho Governor Brad Little took to every platform in Idaho to plead with legislators not to curb his emergency powers. The Governor said that House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136 threaten the safety of Idahoans. He went on to say that future emergencies could hurt the Gem State Economy.
You can see a link to his veto here. Governor Little blamed anger for the two bills that passed overwhelmingly in both houses. He urged the legislators to work with him. The vote will be held this week, and regardless of the outcome, we are living in historical times in Idaho Politics.
Governor Little was not pulling any punches during his speech on the legislature. (Editor's note you can read the entire speech by Governor Little and the former governors below.) He called their bills 'knee jerked and the bills ill conceived. He told the state that he wanted to work with the legislature to limit his powers. Isn't that like the fox guarding the hen house?
The Governor then went on to blame anger saying it has hurt the dialog between both branches of government. I'd say he had a point if this bill had been constructed in a week. However, the legislators worked for almost four months to create a bill that could be veto proof. When's the last time we say such independence from the legislative branch?
The Governor has expertly guided the state through tough times compared to other states. The Legislature has been highly critical of being left out of the process. It is the legislative branch that controls the purse strings. The Governor has determined who gets the federal money during a state of emergency. The Idaho House members and Senate members do not want another instance when we are in a permanent state of emergency.
The Governor's emotion was noted in the response from the Idaho House Republican Caucus in a press release.
– The Idaho House Republican Caucus will continue to work for the people of Idaho. For more than a year, our constituents have been telling us that they wanted a rebalancing of governmental powers, to ensure their voices are heard through our legislative votes. That's exactly what we, working with our colleagues in the Senate, are trying to give them with House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136. Idaho's emergency powers laws were stress-tested and found to be outdated remnants of the cold war era.
"This is simply an update to the system and not a commentary on the job performed by any elected official," said Majority Caucus Chair Rep. Megan Blanksma. "We still believe this legislation is important to appropriately balance the executive and legislative powers in Idaho and it's unfortunate that the current Governor seems to take the issue so personally."
So, we, the Idaho House Republican Caucus will continue with the process of updating these laws, for the good of Idaho, its people, and its current and future leaders.
A showdown over who runs the state has been brewing for over a year. Several legislators have told KIDO Talk Radio that they want the balance of power restored per the Idaho Constitution. Senator Jim Rice, Republican, Caldwell) told us this morning that he will vote to override the Governor's veto. He explained that if the margins stay the same, the vetoes will be overridden when both bills were voted on. If that happens, I'd expect the Governor to challenge both bills in court via the attorney general.
Former Governor Phil Batt wrote his support for Governor Little via press release:
“I am proud to stand with all of Idaho’s living Governors in support of Governor Little’s veto of the emergency powers bills. During the 1996 Panhandle Floods – a major natural disaster that spanned months – I was able to initiate and continue an emergency declaration at the request of local communities so Idaho could access critical resources and overcome the crisis. Governors need the ability to act quickly during an emergency to protect lives, jobs, and the economy. That is the proper role of the executive. The Governor’s emergency authorities are recognized in our state Constitution and should be maintained,” former Governor Phil Batt said.
Former Governor Senator Jim Risch:
“Having spent decades in the Idaho legislature before serving as Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and U.S. Senator for Idaho, I am no stranger to power struggles between the legislative and executive branches; those struggles are as old as our form of government. Those debates and tensions make clear that certain powers should rest with the legislative branch such as the power of the purse and certain powers should rest with the Chief executive, such as emergency powers where quick and sometimes instant action is needed. In times of crisis, the Governor—any governor—must have the ability to quickly and effectively address an emergency challenge. Such authority should not be unlimited or perpetual but hampering a governor’s latitude and discretion to act in future unknown emergencies is not in the state’s best interest. A long list of realistic ‘what if’s’ could be produced and in an agricultural state like Idaho a governor’s inability to act on a livestock or crop issue could be catastrophic along with other humans focused disasters. I fully support Governor Little’s decision to veto the bills,” U.S. Senator Jim Risch said.
Former Governor Dirk Kempthorne:
Today, I’m proud to join my fellow Governors in total support of the action you are about to take, Governor Little. When we became Governor, we all take the oath of office. Included in that oath is that we will support the Constitution of Idaho. The Constitution makes it very clear it is the responsibility of the executive branch of this government – of the Governor – to respond during emergencies. These are situations that are unanticipated, unexpected, but when they do happen – and they do – somebody needs to take action and make the tough decisions. The Governor is required to do that in our Constitution.
There are those situations that may well exceed 60 days. I certainly experienced that with the fire season when I was Governor. Does it make sense that somehow on the 60th day of an emergency that a Governor would be precluded from making the tough decisions? It's not unusual during disasters that the Governor is at the scene of the incident with the incident commander. It was not unusual to have incident commanders – leadership – turn to say, "Governor, we need a decision." And they need a decision immediately. That is not the time that a Governor should say, “I’ll get back to you, I must check with the Legislature."
Governor, thank you for the action you are taking today. It is the correct action. It shows your leadership. And let me also say, as a father and a grandfather, on behalf of my family and families throughout Idaho, thank you for taking this action. You have affirmed that, as our Governor, you'll make those tough choices and to the extent possible, mitigate what these disasters can do to our fellow Idahoans.
Former Governor Butch Otter:
The bills Governor Little is vetoing aren’t only about this Governor or Idaho’s COVID response. The bills Governor Little is vetoing today threaten the FUTURE – all future Idaho Governors, all future emergencies, and the health, safety and prosperity of the people of Idaho during future calamities.
Now, we know Idaho will face other disasters down the road. It’s a part of life, and we all pray the damage that’s done to our property and our people – to families – will be minimal.
However, the Idaho Constitution gives the authority to the Governor to swiftly respond during a crisis to protect lives, jobs, and the economy. That’s the proper role of the executive, and that’s why the separation of duties is so clearly established in our state’s founding document.
The Legislature is a deliberative body. It’s designed to move more slowly and formulate laws and policy in a thoughtful manner. And I know better than most that process matters.
But in the middle of a crisis, days and even hours can mean the difference between life and death. An emergency is no time to slow things down.
I applaud Governor Little for vetoing these bad bills. He and every future Governor must have the authority and tools they need to respond quickly, save lives, and protect livelihoods during a crisis.
The people of Idaho expect their elected officials to lead responsibly and with their best interests at heart.
If the Idaho Legislature really wants to constructively address how our state handles future disasters, it can start again by rejecting this flawed course and involve all parties in the conversation to get it right.
Governor Little's Entire Statement:
My fellow Idahoans. For months now, the Idaho Legislature has debated its desired role in the state’s response to declared emergencies. The debate has culminated in two bills – bills that threaten YOUR safety and our economy during future emergencies.
House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136 are NOT about protecting your rights or improving the state’s emergency response. The bills handcuff the state’s ability to take timely and necessary actions to help Idahoans in future emergencies. The bills narrow the authority of future Governors to the point where a Governor could not deploy the National Guard to facilitate vaccine administration or repair bridges after a massive earthquake. The bills limit the state’s ability to help agriculture and industry minimize financial loss during a drought or flood. In addition, the bills limit the state’s ability to help reopen schools and businesses following a catastrophic disaster.
We know future emergencies will include floods, fires, and drought – the routine experiences of living in the West. A Governor must have the ability to handle those emergencies, but we must recognize that future disasters could include events much more drastic. We could face a potential multi-state disaster involving major earthquakes, enormous flooding, or devastating fires. We could experience a massive, sustained power grid failure. The list of potential devastating disasters is simply unknown.
Future Idaho governors absolutely must be able to respond quickly and protect lives and livelihoods.
The bills not only limit the state, but cities and counties as well. For example, our ability to evacuate a town in advance of a dam break is hindered by the bills.
The bills politicize our emergency response efforts and jeopardize critical funding for local governments during large-scale events. The entire legislative body – 105 individuals – would have to convene in Boise to extend an emergency declaration requested by Lewis County for months-long flooding. Totally impractical and costly.
And if the Legislature fails to extend an emergency declaration, disaster recovery and FEMA relief funding are jeopardized, and Idaho taxpayers are on the hook for emergency response costs.
Idaho is a state that values the Constitution. These bills violate the Idaho Constitution on a number of fronts. The Idaho Constitution wisely prohibits the Legislature from performing executive duties. Declaring and responding to emergencies are core executive functions defined by the Idaho Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, and rightly so. The executive branch has the resources and can tap subject matter experts in emergency response to quickly and effectively deploy resources in fast-moving situations.
The bills severely interrupt and slow down the emergency response because the response becomes subject to 105 different opinions, adding more red tape and government bureaucracy and potentially impacting lives and livelihoods.
For these reasons, I will be vetoing House Bill 135 and Senate Bill 1136.
To the Idaho Legislature, I agree with you that there is a time and a place for the Legislature to be involved during future emergencies. That is why I came to you early on this session and offered tangible solutions and a path forward for the Legislature to become more involved in a way that would not affect the state’s timely response during an emergency.
I am extremely grateful for the members of the Legislature who HAVE taken the time to hear me out. You know who you are, and I appreciate you more than you know.
Numerous stakeholders felt ignored: the National Guard, the cities, the counties, FEMA, state emergency managers, and business.
That’s just plain irresponsible.
Let’s be honest. These bills are an emotional kneejerk reaction because of anger about the pandemic and some of my decisions during a very uncertain time last year.
But I still believe, when faced with difficult decisions and given the information I had at the time, I acted on balance during the pandemic response, and the strength of our economy today PROVES IT.
I listened to the experts, and Idaho was one of only a handful of states with the fewest COVID restrictions.
We avoided a crisis in healthcare and we now have the strongest economy in the nation, thanks in part to quick action during the pandemic and my ability to deploy resources quickly through the constitutional authorities given to the Governor during a crisis.
Any changes the Legislature makes to the state’s emergency response processes should consider how Idahoans will be impacted during FUTURE emergencies. We need to look forward.
Let’s do this the right way and involve stakeholders in the solution. That’s what Idahoans deserve.
I urge my partners in the Legislature who voted for these ill-conceived bills to reconsider their votes on the override, and I urge Idahoans to share their concerns with their legislators as well.
Now, I am proud to say that all of Idaho’s living Governors stand with me in support of my veto of these bills. Governor Phil Batt and Senator Jim Risch, also a former Governor, have provided statements of support. In addition, Governor Butch Otter is here with me today and Governor Dirk Kempthorne will offer some words remotely. I appreciate all our former Governors for your supportive statements today. The people of Idaho need to hear what you have to say.
My friends, the level of divisiveness is too high.
The basic duties of the legislative body – perhaps better characterized as the everyday functions of state government and the most important in the day-to-day lives of the people we serve – have taken a back seat to fringe topics.
Anger has dominated the dialogue and, as a result, the REAL work the people sent us here to do is impacted. Anger is the wrong reaction in these troubled times. Anger drives people apart during a time when we should be working together to heal and move forward.
Rather than politicizing important issues, such as the state’s response during future emergencies, I invite us to work together on solutions.
It’s time to get back on track. The people of Idaho deserve our best.
Our common goal is to create the best possible opportunities for us, our children, and our grandchildren. Let us return to addressing pathways to safety and economic prosperity for this and future generations.
We will continue to update both sides of the story as it develops.