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Idaho voters approve amendment allowing Legislature to call itself back for special sessions

The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Otto Kitsinger
The House in session at the Idaho Capitol on April 6, 2021. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

Previously, only Idaho’s governor had the power to bring legislators back after adjournment

With nearly 98% of precincts reporting on Wednesday afternoon, Idahoans approved a constitutional amendment that will allow the Idaho Legislature to call itself back into session without the approval of the governor, with 52% voting yes, a total of 286,845 votes.

The Idaho Legislature passedSenate Joint Resolution 102 in the 2021 legislative session with support from all but three Republicans in the House and all but four Republicans in the Senate. All 19 Democrats in the Legislature opposed the resolution.

A constitutional amendment proposal needs a two-thirds majority of the Legislature’s approval to make it to the ballot, and only a simple majority of voters is needed for it to pass.

The amendment gives the Legislature the power to call itself back into session with 15 days’ notice and the approval of 60% of each chamber’s members.

Until now, the Idaho Constitution only allowed the governor to call the Legislature back into session for a specific purpose, such as September’s special session that addressed tax rebates and education funding. Since 2000, Idaho governors have only convened five special sessions, also called “extraordinary sessions.”

According to the resolution’s fiscal note, it would cost approximately $21,300 per day for the Legislature to conduct a special session.

TheIdaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the largest business lobbying organization in the state, spentthousands of dollars on efforts to oppose the joint resolution, while far right conservative legislators and groups urged for its passage. Former Gov. Butch Otter also advocated for a no vote on the ballot question.

Republican legislators pushed for the proposed amendment during the 2021 legislative session, but Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, told the Idaho Capital Sun the discussion began during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic when Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho Legislature were at odds over how federal stimulus funds would be allocated.

During debate on the bill, Winder made an argument that the three branches of government should be separate, as required by the U.S. Constitution, and that no branch should have power over the other.

With 70 members of the House and 35 members of the Senate, 60% of each chamber would mean 42 legislators in the House and 21 senators would need to approve a special session for it to take place. Following Tuesday’s election, the Republican supermajority in the Legislature willremain exactly as it was, with Republicans holding 58 seats in the House and 28 seats in the Senate.

According to theNational Conference of State Legislatures, Idaho was one of just 14 states that only allowed the governor to call the Legislature to a special session.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.