2021 Legislative Update: Week 16

Last week was the end of the 122-day 2021 legislative session, the longest in Idaho history. The session, which has been full of strong arguments, legislative proposals to advance liberty, and many to tear it down, ended with more of the same last Wednesday. Usually, at the end of the legislative session, the House and Senate both “Sine Die,” a Latin term that means to adjourn or conclude indefinitely. However, with the potential for Idaho to receive more federal American Rescue Plan Act funds (“COVID-19 relief”) during the remainder of 2021, the Idaho House of Representatives felt that they needed an alternative to the usual Sine Die process to be prepared to fulfill their role as the body constitutionally responsible for appropriations. With that in mind, the House sought to recess until a future time this year when they may need to return to address important issues.

To this end, the House passed House Concurrent Resolution 23, which would have put the legislature into a recess to return no later than September 2021. However, the Senate disagreed with this course of action, citing fears that allowing a recess at this time instead of a Sine Die adjournment would advance the state towards becoming a full-time legislature. Idaho is proudly a state with a part-time legislature, which allows our public servants to be community participants, the same as their neighbors that they represent, and allows them to have permanent jobs regardless of their public service. They return to these jobs between legislative sessions, and a typical session lasts only from January through March or the beginning of April.

Scott Bedke, Speaker of the House, responded to the Senate’s concerns in this comment, “…no one is looking to create a full-time Legislature, but we must make sure we can fulfill our constitutional responsibilities should the unforeseen occur again.” His reference to the “unforeseen” speaks to Governor Little’s decisions last year to appropriate COVID-19 relief money without involving the legislature and other actions he took in response to the pandemic.

In the end, the Senate wasn’t convinced of the need to recess, and the House wasn’t convinced it was wise to adjourn Sine Die. The Senate was the first to take action, and on May 12th, Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon made a motion for the Senate to adjourn Sine Die. The motion passed in a vote of 25-2 with 8 senators absent. The House Majority Leader Representative Mike Moyle made a motion to recess with the possibility of returning to legislative business anytime during the remainder of the year. That motion also passed in a vote of 53-9 with 7 representatives absent.

The House and Senate did agree on and pass Senate Concurrent Resolution 112, which prohibits the legislators from receiving compensation during any temporary adjournment. This resolution was adopted by a voice vote in the Senate and a vote of 62-1 with 6 representatives absent in the House.

Although this type of recess is unprecedented, we should applaud those in the legislature who stayed true to their resolve to protect the proper balance of power between the executive and legislative branches by refusing to Sine Die even in the face of stiff opposition. The office of Idaho’s Attorney General released a statement after the Senate adjourned Sine Die and the House recessed saying that, in their interpretation of applicable laws, they believe if or when the House of Representatives returns to fulfill their constitutional duties later in 2021, the Senate would have three days to reconvene as well. Governor Little’s statement regarding the end of the session commended the Senate for their choice to adjourn Sine Die and expressed disapproval that the legislature left Boise without approving the administrative rules for the following year.

In summary, the 2021 legislative session has concluded (for now) with an unprecedented recess from the House of Representatives and an ensign to the state that the legislature intends to fulfill its constitutional duties no matter the cost.