Rocky Road as Idaho Legislature Works to Close out the 2021 Session
Posted by Ben Shuey on May 5, 2021
The last two weeks of the Idaho Legislative Session have been challenging to manage and navigate for the vast majority of both the legislators and the advocates working on behalf of organizations and issues within our State.
As legislative leadership and political factions continue to grapple with the critical issues that need to be completed before calling an end to the Session, there has also been a number of distractions and very difficult circumstances to manage during these same weeks.
In mid-April, Representative Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Lewiston-6) was accused of serious sexual misconduct with members of the capitol staff and a legislative intern. Following closed door hearings and an intense public hearing, the House Ethics Committee found Representative von Ehlinger to have acted in a manner unbecoming an Idaho Legislator, and recommended to the full House that he be expelled from office. Prior to the full House voting on von Ehlinger’s expulsion, he resigned from his Legislative seat, while continuing to assert his innocence from any illegal actions. A criminal investigation remains open regarding the allegations against the former legislator. We would expect Governor Little to appoint a replacement representative to fill the vacated seat, following recommendations he will receive from the District 6 Central Committee in the Lewiston area.
As of Tuesday morning, the majority of appropriations and budget setting bills have been completed by the Senate, but several have been stalled in the House, for weeks, over objections from a small group of conservative Republicans. This vocal minority have been levying accusations of social justice indoctrination against educational organizations, a small group of teachers from across the state, and programs and professors within Idaho universities. The Idaho State Board of Education worked diligently to showcase that the claims were unfounded, but anecdotal comments continue to be made. In addition, this same group of legislators has expressed strong disagreement with the accepting of additional American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from the federal government, which are targeted to help states, counties, cities, businesses, and individuals get back on their feet in the wake of the pandemic. There is general concern over the amount being spent by Congress on the ARPA programs, and the Idaho Congressional Delegation voted against the legislation that was passed at the federal level. However, if the State of Idaho returns the ARPA funds to the Treasury those funds will be automatically allocated to other States, not refunded to the Treasury. In that regard, there is a strong desire by the majority of the Legislature to complete the necessary allocation of the ARPA funds designated to benefit Idaho, complete the appropriations process, and sine die adjourn for 2021.
It now appears that the Idaho House is looking to stay at recess for the remainder of 2021, in lieu of adjourning sine’ die. Sine’ die, is Latin for “without a day”, and a final adjournment of this kind initiates a number of processes for the end of a legislative session, such as approved legislation and rules going into effect and appropriations being ready for the next fiscal year. However, without adjourning sine’ die there is a potential for a constitutional crisis, the inability for laws to properly go into effect and a possible government shutdown at the state level. The desire to recess instead of adjourning harkens back to the inability for the Legislature to call itself back into Session once it adjourns. A constitutional amendment was passed by the Legislature earlier in the Session, to allow them to call themselves back into Session once they have adjourned, but that action must be approved by the voters, and it is not scheduled to be on the ballot until 2022.
It is time for the Idaho Legislature to complete their work and adjourn for the year, as the tone and tenor of political wrangling has become unruly and unproductive. It is hoped the legislature can reset and come back next year with clearer heads, and less vitriol and anger than that which has transpired during the 2021 Session.