This week, the Idaho Legislature convened for a special session. We saw Republicans spread misinformation and conspiracy theories about COVID-19, downplay the seriousness of it and claim things are “getting better” and that it’s time to get back to “normal,” even though case numbers continue to rise.
Idaho Here’s a summary of what happened this week during the special session and the bills sent to Gov. Little’s desk:
House Bill 6 is a coronavirus liability immunity bill that strips Idahoans’ right to sue, even when they have been harmed by grossly negligent conduct. It grants immunity to those who have “deliberate and reckless disregard” for the safety of Idaho communities during the coronavirus pandemic. Businesses, schools, and other Idaho institutions cannot be held accountable for putting Idahoans’ lives in danger. On Aug. 27, Gov. Little signed this bill into law.
Additional time to mail absentee ballots to voters
The Idaho legislature passed a bill that will give counties a little more time to mail absentee ballots this year. County election officials will now be able to wait until 30 days out from the November election to start sending the requested ballots to voters. Counties originally were required to start sending ballots 45 days out. Idaho counties are anticipating a large increase in absentee ballot requests this year, and asked the legislature to give them more time to fill absentee ballot requests. The votes from the absentee ballots still won’t actually be counted until after polls close on Nov. 3.
Banning all-mail-in elections
The Republican legislature pushed through a bill that forbids any future elections from being all-mail-in. The permanent change does not account for any disasters, emergencies, or safety hazards that could prevent Idahoans from making it to the polls. Despite historic turnout in the mail-in May primary, Governor Little signed the bill on Aug. 27 and has prevented Idaho from ever having another all-mail-in election.
The Idaho House passed a resolution that urges the Governor to “take all necessary steps” to get enough poll workers for the upcoming election, including calling in the Idaho National Guard to act as poll workers. Since the average age of poll workers is 70 years of age, county clerks are concerned COVID-19 will largely reduce the number of available poll workers. Idaho Democrats have fought to increase funding to counties so that poll workers could have PPE, sanitation, and other resources to keep poll workers safe. The resolution asks that the Governor uses additional CARES Act funding to incentivize poll workers with bonuses, instead of prioritizing making voting safe for poll workers and voters.
Idaho Republicans had time at the end of the 2020 legislative session to make plans that would keep Idahoans safer from COVID-19, but they chose to ignore it. If they hadn’t, we could be past the worst of it today. Unfortunately, this week’s special session didn’t really offer much in that regard either, wasting even more taxpayer dollars. Gov. Little now has the option to sign into law or veto the two other bills on his desk.