Senate Bill 1001 — Disaster, definition

Senate Bill 1001 — Disaster, definition

by
Parrish Miller
January 19, 2021

Bill Description: Senate Bill 1001 updates the definitions of "disaster" and "disaster emergency account."

Rating: 0

Analyst Note: Senate Bill 1001 is one of several pieces of legislation introduced during the 2021 session to change how emergency situations are handled and to shift power from the executive branch to the legislative branch during such times. 

Does it violate the spirit or the letter of either the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution? Examples include restrictions on speech, public assembly, the press, privacy, private property, or firearms. Conversely, does it restore or uphold the protections guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution or the Idaho Constitution?

Senate Bill 1001 amends Section 46-1002, Idaho Code, to redefine a "disaster" as a situation arriving from natural causes only. It strikes from the definition references to "man-made" and to "explosion, riot, or hostile military or paramilitary action and including acts of terrorism." Additionally, it adds language to clarify that the "natural cause" of a disaster is "not resulting from a hostile military or paramilitary action or an act of terrorism."

Because a declared "disaster" is a situation in which government power is increased and the rights of individuals are suspended, narrowing the definition of a disaster is a positive change. 

Senate Bill 1001 further amends Section 46-1002, Idaho Code to add "epidemic or pandemic" to the existing list of natural disasters, which includes fires, floods, earthquakes, windstorms, wave actions, and volcanic activity. 

For the same reasons that narrowing the definition of a disaster is a positive change, broadening it is a negative one, particularly when the added terms lack clear definitions and could therefore be defined or redefined by the federal government or international health organizations. 

Existing statutory language retained under S1001 defines a disaster as an "occurrence or imminent threat of widespread or severe damage, injury, or loss of life or property. ..." Many of these words are subjective, and recent events have demonstrated that what one individual might consider imminent, widespread, and severe, another may consider quite the opposite. 

The updates to the definition of a disaster clarify some elements of the definition while leaving substantial room for subjective interpretation. 

What the definitional changes fail to recognize is that inalienable rights are incapable of being alienated, surrendered, or transferred — even when there is a pandemic or a volcanic eruption. 

This problem is not created by S1001, but neither is it corrected. So long as a "disaster," however defined, is regarded as grounds for suspending or limiting individual rights, a fundamental problem will remain that requires correction.

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Does it increase government spending (for objectionable purposes) or debt? Conversely, does it decrease government spending or debt?

Senate Bill 1001 amends Section 46-1002, Idaho Code, by changing the definition of the "obligations and expenses incurred by the state of Idaho" that are paid from the state's "disaster emergency account." While current code defines these obligations and expenses as being incurred "during a declared state of disaster emergency," the new language defines them as "arising out of" the emergency. 

This change attempts to create an affirmative link between expenses paid from the disaster emergency account and their nexus to a declared emergency. Rather than broadly defining these expenses as occurring during the period of emergency, the new language requires specifically that they arise out of that emergency. 

There are both positive and negative elements to this change. It is positive to move away from the broad definition that allows expenses unrelated to a declared emergency to be paid from the state's disaster emergency account merely due to the timeframe in which they occurred. 

It is potentially problematic however, that government expenses arising long after the end of a declared emergency could still be construed to have arisen out of that emergency and therefore a reason to spend from the emergency fund. 

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 state’s expanded spending authority.

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