From Senator Abby Lee District 9 January 22, 2021

Dear Friends,

The second week of the 66th Legislative Session is over and we quickly moved several bills and proposals forward to rebalance the power of the Legislature during what has been an extraordinary year. 

We know so much more about COVID-19 this year than we knew last year at this time, but there is still much to learn. We also know our current statutes and emergency order language was not crafted to deal with today’s issues. 

In Senate State Affairs, I co-sponsored legislation to end the emergency declaration while preserving the FEMA dollars. This federal partnership provides continued assistance to address PPE needs for schools and hospitals, funding for our National Guard that has been deployed to assist with COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution, as well as additional loans and programs to help our small businesses continue to survive – especially in our rural communities.

Unfortunately, the Governor’s office has interpreted our resolution as a requirement to end all funding. Perhaps you caught his strong rebuke of the Legislature during Friday’s press conference. This might give you a feel for how he feels about any power being removed from the Executive Branch.

I want to end the emergency and end the restrictions on the families, businesses, and schools in our community. I support local decision-making to address local issues, and not a statewide mandate or approach. But ending the emergency declaration does not get at the issues of concern. 

I take very seriously the use of tax-payer dollars, but when government restrictions impact our lives, it seems necessary to require the government to help fund the recovery. These are your tax dollars. If Idaho simply ended any FEMA funding, we would immediately be on the hook for almost $27 million to pay for these recovery efforts. 

As I’ve learned more, I realize this is not the right path.

Instead, ending the emergency declaration risks the loss of these federal funds. Our federal funds do not require mask mandates. They do not require limitations on groups size or the closure or any business. The emergency disaster declaration Governor Little signed, was then preempted and continued nationally by President Trump. That’s the backdrop for all of the conversations we are having as we try to understand how FEMA funding impacts our state.

As we continue to research the impacts – as well as my constituents’ concerns – it’s clear that the real burdens for our communities come from the Stay Healthy Orders, not from the Emergency Declaration. I am working with other Legislators to revise the language in the Department of Health & Welfare Director’s powers and plan to present that legislation early next week. 

I am pleased to see the Governor’s Office announce they will provide guidance to end restrictions on athletic events and expect that we will continue to have legislation to make this permanent. The ability to attend high school athletic games may seem like a small thing to some, but those of us in rural communities know this matters – to our kids and to our sense of normalcy. I’m hoping this signals an end to removing many of the other onerous restrictions. 

There will be several additional bills presented this next week and you can follow along with any proposal here.

Please continue to send me your ideas and concerns at alee@senate.idaho.gov

Sincerely,

Abby Lee

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