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Idaho Legislature wraps up special session, sends 3 bills to governor's desk

Lawmakers approved two election-related bills and a third that would shield businesses and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho Legislature concluded its special session late Wednesday night, sending three bills to Gov. Brad Little's desk.

Little called the special session for lawmakers to look at changes to election laws in an effort to smooth voting in November.

Lawmakers this week approved two election-related bills and a third that would shield businesses and schools from coronavirus-related lawsuits.

Here's what each of the election-related bills would do if Little signs them into law:

  • House Bill 1 guarantees in-person voting would be allowed in some form across Idaho, regardless of any emergency orders in effect.
  • Senate Bill 1001 would essentially buy more time for county clerks to process the expected large influx of mail-in ballots for the November general election.

Prior to Wednesday night's adjournment, House Speaker Scott Bedke said the election-related bills are a win for Idaho voters.

"I think if we only did that [the session] would be successful," Bedke said. "One [bill] assures Idahoans that there will always be a place in the county to vote in person and that's very important to a lot of people. And then two, if you do want to vote by absentee, then you will have  a streamlined process that should be no fuss, no muss."

The third bill, passed late Wednesday evening, changes liability laws to protect businesses, schools and government agencies from lawsuits by people who get COVID-19.

Little has five days from the time he receives the bills to either sign them or veto them. If he does neither, the bills will become law automatically.

The special session got off to a chaotic start on Monday when a large group of people forced their way into the House gallery, shattering a glass door along the way.

Then on Tuesday, four people were arrested, including prominent anti-government activist Ammon Bundy, for failing to move when asked by Idaho State Police. Bundy was arrested on trespassing charges again on Wednesday. Police had to drag him from the Capitol Building.

In a statement Thursday morning, the governor thanked legislators, law enforcement, and those who came out to the Statehouse to participate in the public testimony process. Little's full remarks are below.

I want to thank the members of the Idaho Legislature for passionately carrying out their duties and performing this special legislative session. Our common desire for a prosperous and safe Idaho is our bond. Your work has helped ensure our election will be safe and secure and that businesses, schools, and churches responsibly operating during the pandemic are protected. I remain committed to working with you as we get through this very challenging time in our history and emerge stronger than ever. 

To the citizens who came to the Capitol and exercised your First Amendment rights peacefully – thank you. You far outnumbered the individuals who infringed on an orderly proceeding. We will always outnumber the agitators who seek to stifle civil debate and harm our democratic republic.

To the men and women of the Idaho State Police, Boise Police Department, and Capitol security – you served with honor under extremely challenging circumstances. You put your own health and safety on the line, and you acted appropriately to deescalate volatile situations to ensure the important business of the Legislature could move forward. 

And to the people of Idaho – as your Governor, I will continue to do everything I can to protect your health and safety during the pandemic and propel our economic rebound forward. Thank you for the care and concern you have shown your neighbors over the past six months and for your love of Idaho and enthusiasm to make our state even greater. God bless Idaho and this country we love.

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