BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Legislation that would immediately end emergency declarations or health orders in Idaho involving such things as wildfires, floods or pandemics if it prevented businesses from operating cleared the state House on Monday.
Lawmakers voted 52-14 to send to the state Senate the proposed law that backers describe as a business bill of rights.
Opponents said it could have unintended consequences by ending a governor's emergency declarations and cutting off federal recovery funds that Idaho residents would need to rebuild from a disaster.
Lawmakers in the Republican-dominated Legislature are angry that GOP Gov. Brad Little last spring issued a stay-at-home order to limit coronavirus infections and deaths. The order categorized some businesses and workers as "non-essential."
"We as the government began to determine which businesses were essential and which businesses were not essential, which employees were essential, which employees were not essential," Republican Rep. Brent Crane said during debate on the House floor. "Can you imagine if you were told that your business or your career was non-essential?"
The proposed law adds a new section to Idaho code that prohibits government entities from threatening or revoking a business license, an occupational license or issuing fines or sanctions.
If any of those things happen, according to the proposed law, the disaster emergency or health order would immediately be terminated.
"This bill has a definite and distinct whiff of freedom to it," said Republican Rep. Randy Armstrong in arguing in favor of the bill.
Emergency declarations issued by an Idaho governor are needed to bring in Federal Emergency Management Agency funds. The funds stop when the emergency declarations are terminated.
"I could see many really common-sense precautions that would have to be taken in an emergency," said Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel. "If there are raging forest fires, floods, nuclear waste fallout - any number of things that would make a region unsafe to be in and operate in. A necessary corollary of that is that you'd probably have to close the businesses in that area just as a matter of basic public safety."
Republicans in the House and Senate have put forward some 25 pieces of legislation aimed at trimming a governor's authority while increasing the Legislature's authority. Most have died but some others are moving ahead.
The business bill of rights bill is one of less than a handful that has cleared either the House or Senate.