BOISE, Idaho — The Idaho House ended its legislative session on Friday after balancing fears of spreading the coronavirus with potential vetoes of several bills representatives will now be powerless to override.
The House voted 32-28 to end the session a day after the Senate went home. They would have needed to stay five more days to wait out a veto decision by Republican Gov. Brad Little.
“Under ordinary circumstance, we’d have stayed and let, and I believe the Senate would have stayed, and let the five days toll,” said Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke. The coronavirus “caused enough concern that has made people wonder about the wisdom of going home and coming back on Monday.”
One bill that could be vetoed bans transgender people from changing the sex listed on their birth certificates despite a federal court ruling a previous Idaho ban was unconstitutional, and that the Idaho attorney general’s office says could end up costing the state $1 million if it goes to court again.
The other bill bans transgender women from competing in women’s sports despite also getting warnings that such a law is unconstitutional.
Both bills had overwhelming support among Republicans in the House and Senate in numbers great enough to override a veto.
The governor has until next week to make a decision. Little hasn’t indicated his intentions. A handful of large Idaho businesses have asked him to veto the bills because they make the state look intolerant. Little on Friday was traveling to health districts around the state to shore up defenses against the coronavirus as new cases are being reported almost daily.
And if Little vetoes any bills?
“We will complain from home, I guess, because there’s no ability to call ourselves back into session,” said Bedke, noting the current system could ultimately be changed because it puts the legislative branch at a disadvantage.
Republican Rep. Barbara Ehardt sponsored the bill banning transgender women from competing in women’s sports that would apply to all sports teams sponsored by public schools, colleges and universities. She has consistently argued that allowing the practice would negate Title IX, the 1972 law barring sex discrimination in education and is credited with opening up athletic competition for girls and women.
On Friday she voted to keep the House in session. She said she personally felt safe from the virus, but understood the votes of others to go home.
“I support everyone in how they personally felt they needed to vote and what they needed to do,” she said. “These are unusual times.”
Ten members were absent from the House on Friday, some due to fears of COVID-19. The mayor of Boise, where most lawmakers live and work during the session, on Thursday ordered the closure of bars and restaurants in the city due to the coronavirus.
Democratic House Assistant Minority Leader John McCrostie voted to end the session. He said he recognized as valid Republican concerns about vetoes of the transgender bills, which he and other Democrats opposed, but said the vote to end the session was the right thing to do.
”Right now it’s more important that everyone go home to their communities,” he said.