A covey of far-right legislators gathered in Boise on September 15 for the purpose of trying to go into session to stop President Biden’s vaccine mandate. They fell way short of a quorum, but it would not have made any difference if the whole kit and caboodle of both houses had shown up. The Legislature has no authority to call itself into session under the Idaho Constitution. Only the Governor can convene a special legislative session.
Legislators clearly know that they can’t go back into session once they have finished business and gone home in the spring. One of the first things the body did when it got to town in January was to try to figure out how it could call itself into special session. They correctly concluded it would take an amendment to the Idaho Constitution. They then approved Senate Joint Resolution 102, which will be on the November ballot next year.
If the voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature will be able to convene a special session upon the request of at least 60% of the membership of both houses. Voters should think twice before supporting this proposal in light of the grotesque, irresponsible performance of the Legislature this year, including its failure to reform the property tax, chasing its tail on non-existent critical race theory and trying its best to sabotage efforts to control the coronavirus.
Later in the session, someone came up with the bright, but thoroughly mistaken, idea that the House could close up business but then reconvene later in the year simply by saying it was taking a recess, rather than saying it was adjourned sine die. There is no magic in those Latin words as neither they nor “recess” appear in the pertinent provisions of our Constitution. No previous Legislature in state history has tried to pull this trick.
Despite the failure to get anything constructive done on September 15, some legislators are working on legislation to challenge the federal vaccine mandate, with the hope of convening a legislative session to act on it before year’s end. Such a session would not be any more lawful then than it is now under the Idaho Constitution.
To his great credit, one lawyer-legislator branded the special session maneuver as “something that has no lawful basis.” Representative Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who has established himself as a truth-talking lawyer, said the gambit was “merely to score political points.”
Even if the Legislature were to have the lawful power to call itself back into session, it would be pointless because President Biden’s vaccine mandate has a sound legal basis under federal law. It is also good public policy in light of the alarming medical emergency brought on by the recent coronavirus spike in Idaho.
Those like gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin, who spoke at the September 15 rally in opposition to the mandate, are apparently unfazed by the fact that Idaho hospitals are filled with unvaccinated Covid-19 patients and medical personnel are working their fingers to the bone caring for them. She staunchly assumed a pro-choice stance proclaiming, “It is not the place of any business, any governor or any president to dictate to us what we do with our bodies.” That was a head-snapping statement to come from her mouth.
The long and short of it is that the Legislature does not have the constitutional authority to convene itself back into session. Should it attempt to do so, without a call by the Governor, any action taken would be subject to challenge in court and there are certainly lawyers in Idaho who would step forward to support the Idaho Constitution.