Legislature Passes Troubling Liability Immunity Bill
The centerpiece of the special (officially “extraordinary) legislative session called by Gov. Brad Little was developing legislation to grant immunity from liability to school boards and businesses. What resulted was House Bill 6, introduced by Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot, and passed by both chambers of the legislature almost completely along party lines. The legislation has sunsets on July 1, 2021, so the legislature is expected to revisit, and possibly revise the liability immunity concept during their regular session beginning in January.
The new law creates near-complete immunity from liability for “persons”, including school districts, where injuries and damages resulted from exposure to coronavirus. It does not include a good faith requirement. Under this law, the only grounds under which school districts could be held accountable would be for intentional torts or willful or reckless misconduct.
The IEA staunchly opposed this bill, which was supported by both the Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators. “Our students and professional educators deserve a safe learning and working environment, and this law creates an unnecessary barrier to achieving that goal,” says IEA General Counsel Paul Stark. “Our elected officials should not be granting a free pass on accountability for districts that disregard safety protocols.”
The other pieces of legislation passed during the special session centered around the November election. One law allows county clerks extra time to count absentee ballots. The other guarantees an opportunity for in-person voting. Notable by its absence coming out of the session was a proposal supported by all of Idaho’s county clerks that would have set up “voting centers” making it easier for more people to vote safely. Several other states have enacted similar legislation that consolidates voting into larger venues, including outdoor stadiums where better ventilation and physical distancing reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Both chambers passed resolutions critical of Governor Little’s emergency declaration relating to COVID-19, even though the declaration makes Idaho eligible for about $117 million in federal relief funds. The competing resolutions carried no weight of the law.
The special session was marred by unruly behavior from some spectators, some of whom were arrested by Idaho State Police. Many in the crowd declined to wear face coverings or observe physical distancing protocols. A glass panel was broken as the group tried to push their way into an observation room.