Monday, March 08, 2021

The tortoise and the hare in state government

by SEN. JIM WOODWARD Contributing Writer
| February 11, 2021 1:00 AM

We have just finished the fourth week of the 2021 legislative session. I might call this the nuts-and-bolts portion of the session. Many bills in committee, and starting to make their way to the floor, are administrative fixes or changes necessary because time has marched on and the law has not kept up. There are, of course, some proposals drawing more attention. Primary among those is the debate over the proper role of the executive branch and the legislative branch of government. The pandemic brought into play many sections of Idaho code that have not been utilized for decades or perhaps have never been tested under actual circumstances.

Idaho Code Title 39 Chapter 4 establishes health districts throughout the state, defines their governance structure, lists their duties, and gives the districts quarantine power the same as the state. The health districts were first established in 1970.

Idaho Code Title 46 Chapter 6 authorizes the governor’s powers during an extreme emergency. It dates back to 1927, although it has been modified as recently as 2009.

Finally, Title 56 Chapter 10, enacted in the year 2000, puts in place the Department of Health and Welfare as organized today. This section of code is the basis for most of the health restrictions put in place during the last year.

All of these laws are an agreement amongst us, the people of Idaho. The Legislature was the means of making those agreements in previous years and is the means for changing them now if we so desire. The agreements we make through law are statements of policy for the citizen and for state agencies. Our predecessors designed a system with one branch of government responsible for planning the course we take and another responsible for steering the course. They defined the roles of the policy-setting branch, the Legislature, and the branch which acts upon policy, the Executive.

One final distinction I make between the two branches is the speed of operation. A body which sets policy must, by its nature, be deliberative as it makes decisions for decades or more into the future. This makes it slow to respond … the tortoise. The branch we have charged with day to day operations must be able to move quicker … the hare. The analogy to the fable breaks down at this point. For the good of the state and its people, the tortoise and hare must be on the same team and must cross the finish line together.

The legislative process is often contentious as different perspectives cross paths. You may have heard or read of the ongoing debate over the balance of power between the two branches of government. There is value in having the debate. It is another part of the system our predecessors established. However, I believe there is no better time than the present to move beyond this debate, to take stock of everything we have going in our favor in Idaho, and to reaffirm that all branches of government work for the people of Idaho.

Thank you for the opportunity to represent the community at the state level. I look forward to hearing concerns and input on legislative actions. The easiest way to track legislation is on the legislative website. Email is the best way to reach me.