Idaho Legislature Passes COVID-19 Liability Safe Harbor and General Election Support

While the House and Senate got down to business, there were some disruptive protests followed by arrests.

9/1/2020

Idaho’s three-day special session last week saw spirited debate and late-night meetings, but by the time it ended, coronavirus-related liability had been addressed. Here’s how the legislation progressed:

On Wednesday, the Idaho House introduced compromise legislation to provide limited liability protection or civil immunity for damages or an injury resulting from exposure to the coronavirus. The compromise bill, H.B. 6, was passed on a 54-15-1 vote, which broke down mostly along party lines. The legislation extends civil immunity for unknown or unintentional COVID-19 transmissions for individuals, businesses, organization, schools, churches, and other entities. The House version does not provide liability protection to Idaho public health districts, the Idaho state government or its non-educational agencies, the federal government or its agencies, nor any foreign government or foreign jurisdiction.

Later Wednesday evening, the Senate took additional public testimony on H.B. 6, which was followed by the committee recommending the bill be passed by the full Senate. The bill passed on a 27-7 margin. Governor Brad Little is expected to sign the COVID-19 liability safe harbor legislation.

“We were supportive of the effort to put limited liability of liability safe harbor in place for businesses, schools and organizations that are working diligently to keep their customers, members and employees safe during the pandemic and working to ensure we are following all federal, state and local requirements in the process,” said Ryan Fitzgerald, Northwest Credit Union Association Vice President, Legislative Affairs for Idaho.

Fitzgerald said the bill that passed is a “watered-down” version of a potentially strong bill but does provide a safe harbor for credit unions.

While NWCUA did not introduce a bill during the session, Fitzgerald was on hand monitoring and providing input to legislators, as always, of interest to credit unions.

The special session saw some chaotic behavior when a group of people forced their way into the House gallery Monday, breaking a glass door. Tuesday, anti-government activist Ammon Bundy and three others were arrested, and Bundy was dragged by police from the capitol, according to local media.

Earlier in the week, both the House and the Senate had introduced and passed legislation to ensure Idahoans always have an opportunity to vote in-person, notwithstanding a state of emergency. Another election support bill passed provides security and efficiency measures in the collection and counting of absentee ballots.

In the final hours of the Special Session, there was an effort by the Idaho House to end Governor Little’s state of emergency via a concurrent resolution between both bodies (HCR 1). The resolution passed the House on 48 – 20 vote; however, the Senate, following an Attorney General’s opinion, determined HCR 1 was likely unconstitutional for them to pass anything on a topic that the Governor did not specify could be managed during a special session. Instead, the Senate passed an individual resolution (SR 101) encouraging the Governor to end the state of emergency when it was safe and responsible to do so, but they focused more on the several issues the Senate intends to take up during the 2021 Regular Session. The Senate made it known that it intends to curb the power of the Executive Branch, call themselves back into Special Session, reduce authorities of public health districts as well as certain local government subdivisions.  

The Special Session sine die adjourned at 9:18 p.m. on Wednesday night.

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