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Idaho lawmakers to consider COVID-19 liability bill

Idaho Capitol

BOISE, Idaho (KIFI/KIDK) - Some key decisions are in store as Idaho lawmakers gear up for a rare special session next week. 

Governor Brad Little will have five issues on the table to choose from. Those include the upcoming election, absentee voting, education funding, COVID-19 precautions among others.

There’s also an anticipated debate over a coronavirus liability protection under the ‘Special Session Liability’ Bill.

The bill has gone through several revisions. The latest version would protect public institutions and businesses from civil suits as a result of the pandemic.

“We’re dealing here with a mysterious enemy,” Idaho Senate President Pro Tempore Brent Hill said. “We need schools and businesses to be able to open and what this does is provide a safe harbor for if they are keeping the laws and following the regulations.” 

Hill said the bill only applies if people are acting in “good-faith” and following all laws and government orders, which including mask mandates issued by public health districts and local governments.

The bill doesn’t come without it’s concerns. Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly said it should instead be called “No Accountability” legislation.

In a statement Thursday, McInelley said, “The state has issued a clear directive that local districts are responsible for both instruction and the health and safety of students and educators—this legislation would enable them to abdicate that responsibility. The legislature has had six months to address the COVID-19 crisis and craft policy around public schools. The best they can come up with is granting blanket immunity to those entrusted with keeping us safe?”

Lawmakers say this statement is a misnomer and isn’t a bill for everyone. It just provides options. 

“It's limited liability,” Hill said. “We have these in all kinds of issues. For one thing it only applies to tort claims. It doesn't apply to contracts. It doesn't apply to workers compensation. Workers compensation is not changed by this… It doesn't protect those who are negligent. Those who are not putting forth the effort to provide the protections that are out there.

Governor Little will issue a proclamation in the coming days detailing what issues lawmakers will address during the special session that’s scheduled for the week of August 24. 

Regardless of his decision lawmakers say the liability bill will be discussed at some point. If the bill is passed, it will only apply to the current pandemic and is set to expire July 2023.

Article Topic Follows: Idaho Politics

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