BOISE — He did it quietly, but Gov. Brad Little has signed into law the Legislature’s bill to shift $4 million from the state general fund this year to the Legislative Legal Defense Fund.

“There was always money in that account,” Little said when asked about his decision. “It was empty, and they needed some more money in it. So I signed it. If it was a smaller amount, I would’ve signed it too.”

Asked if he saw the $4 million transfer as part of the Legislature’s series of moves this year against accepting the legal advice of the Idaho Attorney General — the elected official charged by the Idaho Constitution with being the state’s legal officer — Little said, “It wasn’t in the bill.”

Of the $4 million, he said, “They don’t have to spend it.”

“If it lasts for 50 years, it’s perfect,” he said.

The money can be spent at the discretion of the House speaker and the Senate president pro-tem, for legal fees whether or not they involve lawsuits.

The bill to transfer the funds, SB 1022, passed on a 27-7 party-line vote in the Senate, with all Senate Republicans in favor and all Senate Democrats opposed; and a 57-11 vote in the House, with all House Republicans present voting “yes” and all House Democrats present voting “no.”

Former state Rep. Luke Malek’s run for Idaho lieutenant governor has been reporting a series of GOP endorsements, including one from GOP Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who rarely endorses candidates in primary races.

“I am endorsing Luke because he is a man of integrity,” Wasden said in his endorsement. “Now, more than ever, we need leaders that will follow their convictions without reservation. Luke will use his convictions as a solid foundation for his leadership and serve Idaho well.”

Also last week, Malek announced an endorsement from former Idaho GOP Sen. Larry Craig.

In addition to being a former GOP state representative, Malek is a former deputy prosecutor in Kootenai County, a former aide to then-Gov. Jim Risch, and a former unsuccessful GOP candidate for Congress. Current Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, also a Republican, hasn’t yet said if she’ll seek re-election in 2022; she is widely rumored to be considering a challenge to GOP Gov. Brad Little.

LITTLE’S LINE ON TAX CUTS

Little, who called for tax cuts in his State of the State address to the Legislature this year, was asked last week about the massive tax-cut bill endorsed by the House, HB 332, which passed the House on a 58-12 vote on March 17 and is now pending in the Senate.

“I want to have a fundamentally balanced budget when we get done,” Little said. “I want to give some of the money back in tax relief to people that have been paying it. I want to do some other tax relief. There’s a bill that’s gone from the House to the Senate, I don’t know what the Senate’s going to do with it. That’s still an issue out there, but I don’t want to mix up one-time money with ongoing money. We can do some ongoing tax relief. We can do some one-time tax relief. But I still want to balance the budget and then honor our commitments, particularly to education going forward.”

Two callers on the governor’s AARP Idaho tele-town hall call last week wanted to know Little’s position on so-called “vaccine passports.”

Little said the topic came up that morning when he participated in a call between the White House and the nation’s governors. “Any of those programs will not be a federal program or a state program,” he said. “They’ll be private, by an entity or maybe a nonprofit. So those of you that have been vaccinated have your card. It’s not the most secure document in the world.”

He said, for example, “‘Joe’s Surfing Club’ in Hawaii is going to say, ‘To come to Joe’s Surfing Club you have to have some kind of evidence,’ but it won’t be a federal program and it won’t be a state program.”

A later caller from Eagle demanded to know if the governor would take executive action similar to that taken by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to ban such requirements by private businesses. By then, Little already had left to meet with business leaders in Canyon County on transportation issues.

Idaho Health & Welfare Director Dave Jeppesen said there are no plans at the state level to require proof of vaccination for any state service. “For private businesses … that’s their prerogative, what they may choose to do around that,” he said.

ON THE HOUSE’S COVID OUTBREAK…

Rep. Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, was one of six House member COVID-19 infections and one of nine Statehouse cases overall reported in the week leading up to the Legislature’s decision to take an unprecedented 18-day recess on March 19. Though Chaney initially had few symptoms, he did develop them as he stayed home after testing positive for the virus, as did his wife, Sarah.

“Kind of the irritating or frustrating thing, I guess, about the virus is it hits everyone differently,” Chaney said. He had a couple days of being exhausted, then “three days of the worst headache I ever had.” He never had a fever or cough, but Sarah suffered much more. She had difficulty breathing and lost her senses of taste and smell. “She’s doing much better,” Chaney reported.

Asked about the lack of health care precautions, including masking and distancing, during this year’s legislative session, Chaney said, “Well, it’s unfortunate. I think that you can bristle at government restrictions that you don’t particularly like without minimizing the underlying virus. I was relatively confident when I got my positive test that I would be OK — I’m younger, I’m in good health. But you just don’t know who out there has somebody at home that they need to be concerned about. So I think a little bit of recognition of what others in the body might be trying to navigate as far as that’s concerned is well in order.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group.



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