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Idaho Legislature to reconvene at Statehouse in Boise on Nov. 15

Speaker of the House Scott Bedke (R, Oakley) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
Speaker of the House Scott Bedke (R, Oakley) at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Legislators will consider bill pushing back against Biden COVID rules and an ethics complaint

The Idaho Legislature will reconvene Nov. 15 to address President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 rules for employers and consider an ethics complaint against Rep. Priscilla Giddings, Speaker of the House Scott Bedke said Monday.

Reps. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, and Caroline Nilsson Troy, R-Genesee, also confirmed the Nov. 15 date to the Idaho Capital Sun on Monday afternoon.

“It’s what we were notified of,” Chaney said in a text message to the Idaho Capital Sun.

Reporter Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press broke the news of the special session on Monday.

At this point, it is not a surprise the Idaho Legislature will reconvene before the year ends and the regular 2022 session begins on Jan. 10.

“We are working together with our lawyers as well as with the Attorney General’s Office and the Governor’s Office as we work with other states to find an appropriate response to the mandates from the Biden administration,” Bedke said in a telephone interview.

“I believe this is overreach,” he added.

After the longest legislative session in state history, the Idaho Senate voted to adjourn for the year on May 12. However, that same day, the Idaho House voted down a motion to adjourn and instead voted to go into an extended recess, reconvening no later than Dec. 31.

Normally, Idaho’s governor is the only one empowered to call a special session of the Legislature. Republicans in the Idaho House purposely chose to go at recess rather than adjourn, which left the door open for them to reconvene this year.

Momentum to reconvene, at least in some corners, built over the summer.

In July, Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin wrote a letter to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley,asking him to reconvene the Idaho Legislatureto push back against vaccine and testing requirements several Idaho-based health care providers and hospitals announced.

On Sept. 15, a small group of 16 conservative legislators from the far-right wing of the partytried and failed to establish a quorum to reconvene the Legislature.

Then momentum really picked up earlier this month.

On Oct. 4, Republicans on the Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Federalism, voted to recommend the full Legislature reconvene and consider a draft bill that would criminalize state or local government employees who help implement Biden’s COVID-19 testing or vaccination rules for employers.

Under the draft bill brought forward by Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, it would become a misdemeanor for state or local government employees to implement Biden’s rules in Idaho.

During the Committee on Federalism’s first meeting in September, Chief Deputy Attorney General Brian Kane said Biden recently announced three new COVID-19 rules for employers:

  • One required federal employees to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • The second required employees of federal contractors to be vaccinated for COVID-19.
  • The third was an announcement directing the Department of Labor to issue a temporary standard under OSHA to require employers with more than 100 employees to require their workers to be vaccinated for COVID-19 or tested weekly.

The day after the Committee on Federalism signed off on the draft bill, Bedke announced legislative leaders were working on a plan to reconvene.

“Currently, the Senate Pro Tempore (Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise) and I are working through the proper avenues to return to session with a clear path forward to deny the recent Biden mandates,” Bedke wrote in an Oct. 5 press release. “The draft legislation moved forward by the Joint Federalism Committee with unanimous support of its Republican members appears to have found that path. I stand firm against the current Biden administration’s attack on personal rights and freedoms, and I do not support this federal violation.”

When it comes to the special session, Bedke said he has asked legislators to limit the bills they propose “to the issues surrounding vaccines.”

“All of these (other) things can be taken up in January,” Bedke said.

Idaho House will consider discipline against Rep. Giddings

The Idaho House of Representatives will also address the recommendation from a legislative ethics committee to censure Rep. Priscilla Giddings and remove her from one committee that was issued in a report on Sept. 1.

Under the recommendation, Giddings, a Republican from White Bird, would be removed from the House Commerce and Human Resources Committee but remain on the Agricultural Affairs and the powerful budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Two ethics complaints were referred to the Ethics on House Policy Committee in April and May, the first of which was filed by Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, stating Giddings could be charged with misdemeanors for creating a hostile work environment for a legislative staffer and filing a false report. That complaint was dismissed by the committee because it dealt with criminal matters.

The second complaint was signed by 25 legislators, including 17 Republicans and eight Democrats, stating it was inappropriate and unbecoming of a legislator for Giddings to post on Facebook the name and photo of the 19-year-old legislative staffer who accused former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, of rape in April.

Von Ehlinger resigned his seat after the ethics committee recommended his suspension from the Legislature but has denied the allegations of rape. Von Ehlinger was charged with rape and forced penetration with a foreign object, both felonies, and arrested on Oct. 8 in Ada County following his arrest on a fugitive warrant in Georgia. His preliminary hearing is scheduled for Friday.

In a statement emailed to the Idaho Capital Sun from Giddings’ campaign manager after the ethics committee’s decision on Aug. 3, Giddings did not apologize and denied all allegations against her. She said the committee acted in “blatant conflict of interest” because it is beholden to Bedke, who is one of her 2022 Republican primary opponents in the campaign for lieutenant governor.

Giddings has previously claimed the ethics complaint was politically motivated, saying Bedke’s name and signature was listed first on the bipartisan complaint. Rep. Brooke Green, D-Boise, said she authored the complaint and the names were listed in alphabetical order. The complaints were also filed weeks before Giddings or Bedke announced they were running.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state.