Idaho Legislative Update: mask bans, defunding abortion providers, constitutional amendment, ballot initiatives

Republican state Rep. Karey Hanks addresses the House State Affairs Committee, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in the Statehouse in Boise, Idaho. The committee introduced legislation to prohibit mask mandates in Idaho. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) —

PROHIBITING MASK MANDATES

FILE – Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst

Legislation to prohibit mask mandates by government entities in Idaho has been introduced. The House State Affairs Committee on Tuesday cleared the way for a potential hearing on the bill put forward by a dozen conservative lawmakers.

Republican Rep. Karey Hanks says requiring healthy individuals to wear masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and other diseases can cause physical and emotional harm. Republican Gov. Brad Little has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but seven counties and 11 cities have such orders in place.

Officials report that the coronavirus has infected more than 170,000 Idaho residents and killed nearly 1,900.

DEFUND ABORTION PROVIDERS

The House has passed a bill that would halt all public funding to any entities that advise women about their abortion options.

Lawmakers on Tuesday voted 55-14 to send to the Senate the bill supporters say would stop some women from obtaining abortions. It allows exceptions for hospitals, cases where the mother’s life is in danger and cases involving Medicaid, which are governed by federal law.

Opponents say it would stop many women from getting cancer screenings, birth control and other health care by shutting down providers like Planned Parenthood. Some lawmakers opposed the legislation because it didn’t outright ban all abortions.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT

FILE – In this file photo taken on Feb. 18, 2021, showing the Idaho Senate meets in the Statehouse, in Boise, Idaho. A Senate panel of lawmakers has approved a new version of a constitutional amendment allowing the part-time Idaho Legislature to call itself into session. The Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday, March 1, 2021, voted 5-3 to send the joint resolution to the full Senate. (AP Photo/Keith Ridler, File)

A Senate panel of lawmakers has approved a new version of a constitutional amendment allowing the part-time Idaho Legislature to call itself into session.

The Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday voted 5-3 to send the joint resolution to the full Senate. A similar resolution passed the House in January with the two-thirds majority needed for constitutional amendments. But it appeared to go too far for senators.

Under that version, special sessions called by lawmakers would not have been limited to topics decided ahead of the sessions. The new version would have those limits.

Lawmakers opposed to the original version feared that the Legislature would become a fulltime operation.

BALLOT INITIATIVES

The Idaho Senate has approved legislation to make it more difficult to get initiatives or referendums on ballots. Senators voted 26-9 to send the measure to the House.

Backers say it’s needed to give rural voters more say in the process. Opponents say the measure violates the Idaho Constitution because it makes getting initiatives on ballots nearly impossible, giving a single district veto power.

Current rules require signatures from 6% of registered voters in each of 18 legislative districts in 18 months. The proposed law would change that to requiring 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho districts in 18 months.

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