EAST IDAHO – Local legislators are preparing for the special legislative session the week of August 24th.

It is expected the session will cover issues related to the COVID-19. Idaho lawmakers have been calling for a special legislative session for the last several months, citing the need to weigh in on topics from business re-openings to spending the state’s 1.25 billion in COVID-19 relief money.

Governor Little’s office anticipates a proclamation the week of August 17th “detailing the exact issues to be covered.” Before the legislative session, KID News Radio will be getting input from local leaders on what topics they think should be addressed.

Bryan Zollinger, Idaho State Representative for Seat 33 B, told KID that “the first and foremost” issue is that “public health districts need to be reined in.”

I think the reason for that is… they’re making decisions in their region, but it’s on a county-by-county basis, and each county just has one vote. And some of the people, like the doctors on the board, that get a vote, are not even elected officials…so you have basically people that are not representative of the citizenry of the county, or not responsible to the citizens, making law. So I think that’s the biggest thing that needs to happen, is the authority of the public health districts to make law needs reigned in a little bit.

Idaho’s public health districts have been able to make a wide variety of decisions regarding public health in relation to COVID-19, including the madating of face coverings for several east Idaho counties.

Zollinger gave an example of an upcoming bill that would limit public health district power:

I think there’s one bill that’s moving forward to do exactly that, which would give authority to the school districts, rather than the public health districts, over schools. The way it is right now, it’s kind of a gray area, but the way I interpret the law, and I think most school districts are, is that if the public health districts have a law, the school districts have to comply with it…that needs to be fixed so school boards have local control over education, not being dictated by unelected officials.

Zollinger says that while public health districts is the main issue he has “that is going to have any traction,” another topic he would like to have addressed is gubernatorial authority:

“I would really like to see the Governor have some of his authority taken away during these emergency declarations, where the time limit is shortened, where the people still have a say where the legislature could go back…but it’s not likely we’re going to be able to do anything on that on a special session. The Governor’s just not going to allow that.”

Rep. Zolilnger says the overall emergency powers declaration the Governor is operating under dates back to the 1940’s:

“Obviously things were different in the 40’s right after WWII. Things have clearly changed in the world. The way it’s set up now, it makes sense that the governor has some power to call an emergency declaration, because we can’t convene 105 legislators just on the spur of the moment, but I think those need to be limited to a short duration, and require that the legislature reconvene as soon as possible, so that the citizens have a voice in the decisions being made.”

KID News Radio will continue to cover events leading up to the special legislative session and the session itself.