Bill Description: House Bill 259 updates the statutory definition of "disaster" and creates definitions for "epidemic" and "pandemic."
Analyst Note: House Bill 259 replaces House Bill 202.
Does it give government any new, additional, or expanded power to prohibit, restrict, or regulate activities in the free market? Conversely, does it eliminate or reduce government intervention in the market?
House Bill 259 amends Section 46-1002, Idaho Code, to update the statutory definition of "disaster" and create definitions for "epidemic" and "pandemic."
The amended definition of "disaster" is "occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property resulting from any natural or man-made cause, including but not limited to fire, flood, earthquake, windstorm, wave action, volcanic activity, epidemic, pandemic, or cybersecurity incident with the exception of violent acts identified in section 46-601, Idaho Code, that constitute a state of extreme peril."
The newly created definition of "epidemic" is "an excessive, prevalent, widespread outbreak causing a significant increase in mortality rates due solely to an infectious disease. An epidemic may be moderate, with a twenty-five percent (25%) attack rate and a one and one-half percent (1.5%) fatality rate, or severe, with a thirty percent (30%) attack rate and a two and one-half percent (2.5%) fatality rate."
The newly created definition of "pandemic" is "an excessive, prevalent, multinational epidemic."
Under current Idaho law, there are no statutory definitions of "epidemic" or "pandemic," so a state of disaster emergency can be declared based on any situation that is claimed to be an "epidemic" or "pandemic," despite these conditions being undefined. As 2020 has vividly illustrated, such a state of affairs allows for all manner of government intervention in the market and daily life.
By creating definitions for these terms, House Bill 259 reduces the likelihood that a future state of disaster emergency will be declared in Idaho because of an epidemic or pandemic.
Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt?
The existing wording of Section 46-1002(8), Idaho Code, says the state will pay expenses incurred "during a declared state of disaster emergency," but House Bill 259 changes the language to apply to expenses "arising out of a declared state of disaster emergency."
This change attempts to tie the obligations and expenses incurred by the state of Idaho more directly to a declared emergency. Rather than broadly defining these expenses as those that occur during the period of emergency, the new language requires that they arise specifically out of that emergency.
There are both positive and negative elements to this change. It is good to move away from a broad definition that allows expenses unrelated to a declared emergency to be included in the list of what can be paid merely because they were incurred during the emergency.
It is potentially problematic, however, that government expenses arising long after an emergency ends could still be construed to have arisen out of that emergency. Such a classification allows those expenses to be paid from certain dedicated funds.
A better definition would incorporate both the requirement that the expenses arise out of the emergency and that they do so only during a declared state of disaster emergency. Such a definition would do more to restrict the expanded spending authority of the state.