Large Crowds, Protesters Turn Out For Opening Day Of Idaho’s Special Legislative Session
BY CLARK CORBIN / IdahoEdNews.org
Large crowds of protesters and onlookers descended on the Statehouse Monday as legislators convened for a rare special session.
The House and Senate met in person to address three issues that Gov. Brad Little outlined when he called the special session, which is officially referred to as an extraordinary session.
- Liability protection during an emergency, such as the coronavirus pandemic.
- Absentee voting.
- In-person voting.
But once legislators settled in, a handful of other issues emerged from the scrum. Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, pushed a House concurrent resolution designed to repeal the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration, which Little announced in mid-March. Harris said he believes his approach carries the effect of law — and concurrent resolutions, unlike bills, are not subject to a gubernatorial veto.
Later, the House State Affairs Committee introduced four different liability protection or immunity bills early Monday afternoon. One would provide liability protection for schools and businesses. Another would only provide protection for K-12 schools, colleges and universities but not businesses. A different proposal that would have not given any liability protection to schools died in committee.
Liability protection is an important issue for school administrators, who said insurance carriers told them they will likely not cover costs if someone catches COVID-19 at a school and sues.
Even though many of the procedures were the same as a regular session, Monday looked, felt and sounded totally different than your average day at the Statehouse pre-pandemic.
Hundreds of protesters and onlookers filled the House seating gallery and packed committee hearing rooms. Many were not wearing masks or maintaining social distancing, which deviates from the public health order in place for Ada County.
Some members of the crowd, along with the Idaho Freedom Foundation, opposed one of the liability protection bills, which had yet to be released to the public by 3:30 p.m. Monday.
Others were there to voice their opposition to Little, for enacting restrictions this spring and summer in an attempt to slow the spread of the virus.
“We the people are tired,” said Ammon Bundy, a rancher who helped lead an armed occupation at an Oregon wildlife refuge in 2016 . “We are tired of government force and we will only take it for long. I recommend you act wisely because we will not live in fear.”
Some screamed at legislators, “You work for us.” Others chanted, “This is our house,” and “Let us in.” They disobeyed legislators or capitol security officers attempting limit group sizes. When crowd members who didn’t have a seat refused to leave, it prompted nearly an hourlong delay in starting a meeting.
“We are allowed to get sick if we want,” Nampa resident Robert Jones said.
Before the House even gaveled into session, a crowd of protesters swarmed the seating gallery and broke a glass door above the House chamber, Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported. Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, posted a video of guards attempting to hold back a charging group of protesters.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, excused herself from the House State Affairs meeting, citing safety concerns as a large crowd packed the Lincoln Auditorium, the Statehouse’s largest meeting space.
“This is not social distancing,” Wintrow said.
“This is the problem. We are here to do the business of the state. I am here to represent my constituents. But I won’t do it in an unsafe manner.”
The crowds were so large and loud that anyone listening to the online streaming coverage of the meetings could clearly hear screaming and cheering coming from Statehouse hallways.Members of the crowd immediately reacted loudly, with some booing and jeering Wintrow. The outbursts led House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee Chairman Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, to slam his gavel down in anger and demand decorum.
The special session will not wrap up Monday. The House announced plans to go back on the floor at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
This is the fourth special session in the past 20 years. Previous special session took place in 2000, 2006 and 2015.
Idaho Education News Reporter Sami Edge contributed to this report and took all the photos from the Statehouse.
Originally posted on IdahoEdNews.org on August 24, 2020