LOCAL NEWS

Idaho Legislature Shuts Down Due To COVID-19 Outbreak

Mar 19, 2021, 12:43 PM

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin speaks during a mask burning event at the Idaho Statehou...

Idaho Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin speaks during a mask burning event at the Idaho Statehouse on March 6, 2021 in Boise, Idaho. Citizens and politicians gathered in at least 20 cities across the state to protest COVID-19 restrictions. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

(Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Legislature voted Friday to shut down for several weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19.

Lawmakers in the House and Senate made the move to recess until April 6 with significant unfinished business, including setting budgets and pushing through a huge income tax cut.

At least five of the 70 House members tested positive for the illness in the last week, and there are fears a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 is in the Statehouse.

“The House has had several positive tests, so it is probably prudent that the House take a step back for a couple weeks until things calm down and it’s not hot around here for COVID,” House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said before the votes.

Four of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is Democrat. Another Republican lawmaker is self-isolating. The chamber has a super-majority of 58 Republicans, most of whom rarely or never wear masks. All the Democratic lawmakers typically wear masks.

The three lawmakers who tested positive this week, two Republicans and one Democrat, had all been participating in debates on the House floor.

The House, with the illness spreading, requested the Senate recess as well. Two senators contracted COVID-19 but have recovered and returned to the 35-member Senate.

The Senate honored the House request and voted to recess about an hour after the House, with Republican Senate President Pro-Tem Chuck Winder calling it “an unusual and kind of historic request that has been made of us.”

Republican Sen. Majority Leader Kelly Anthon said senators could use the time to prepare for when the Senate convenes again. “We will use this time productively for the Idaho people so that when we come back together on April 6, we will be ready to work quickly,” he said.

Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said after the votes that the delay could be good because it could give the Legislature time to figure out how to spend the $2.2 billion the state is receiving in the latest round of federal coronavirus relief money.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate, who control both chambers, didn’t impose a mask mandate this session.

“I think maybe when they come back, maybe it will be different,” Bedke said. “But I have no regrets on the safety protocols here to this point.”

Lawmakers will be paid the per diem rates to cover their normal session-related living expenses during the recess, and secretaries and attachés will also be paid during the break. Bedke characterized it as essentially a long weekend that many will use to catch up on paperwork and other business.

A major goal of GOP lawmakers in the Legislature this session has been curbing the emergency powers of the Republican governor to respond to things like pandemics. Legislators have floated several proposals that would restrict Gov. Brad Little’s ability to make sweeping directives in the future.

The House has also been advancing a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that people wear masks. Little, who wears a mask in public and encourages others to do so, has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but a handful of counties and about a dozen cities currently have such orders in place.

In a joint statement, Democratic House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said they hoped that their colleagues ill with COVID-19 recovered.

“But we can’t help but be disappointed in how bad things have become at the Capitol, when we could’ve prevented this from becoming a hot spot all along,” they said. “We are just so sorry it took so many people getting sick for us to act. We must do better when we return, or else we’ll keep finding ourselves in this position.”

Besides the seven lawmakers known to have contracted COVID-19, about that many House and Senate staffers also are known to have contracted the virus this session.

During the recess, the lawmakers are expected to travel home to all parts of the state, potentially spreading the variant of the virus.

Dr. David Peterman, a pediatrician and CEO of Primary Health Medical Group, said Thursday that 30% to 40% of positive tests at the health group’s facilities in southwestern Idaho were the variant.

About 175,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 1,900 have died. But about 200,000 residents have received both shots of the two-shot vaccine, and another 125,000 have received the first shot. About 1.8 million people live in the state.

___

Associated Press reporter Rebecca Boone contributed to this report.

KSL 5 TV Live

Local News

Snow in Little Cottonwood Canyon...

Carter Williams, KSL.com

Here’s what to expect as remnants of California blizzard head to Utah

A winter storm warning has been issued for parts of the Wasatch Mountains, while other mountain areas in Utah's northern half are listed in a winter storm watch ahead of a storm that has the potential to deliver multiple feet of snow over the next few days.

1 hour ago

February, 29, otherwise know as leap year day, is shown on a calendar Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024, in Ove...

Eliza Pace

Nine Leap Day deals and discounts

It's Leap Day and the extra day in February has some extra deals this year. 

3 hours ago

A Lehi home was destroyed in a fire Thursday morning. (Jeanteil Livingston, Lehi City)...

Karah Brackin

Lehi house partially collapses following massive fire

Several emergency crews responded to a large fire that severely damaged a Lehi home Thursday morning.

6 hours ago

Two people were killed in a plane crash in Grand County on Feb. 7. The National Transportation Safe...

Cassidy Wixom, KSL.com

Plane fell like a ‘corkscrew’ before fatal crash near Colorado border; cause remains unknown

The National Transportation Safety Board released a preliminary report Wednesday on a plane crash in Grand County that destroyed the plane and killed two people as it spiraled from the sky.

7 hours ago

Police respond to a deadly shooting in Bountiful. (John Wilson, KSL TV)...

Josh Ellis

One man dead after shooting in Bountiful

Bountiful police say one man was shot and killed early Thursday morning. No arrests have been made in connection to the shooting.

8 hours ago

crayons...

Daniel Woodruff

Utah Legislature approves allowing more children at unlicensed day care facilities

A bill in the Utah Legislature that aims to allow unlicensed providers to care for up to eight children instead of six passed the house and senate. It now awaits Gov. Cox's signature.

15 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Modern chandelier hanging from a white slanted ceiling with windows in the backgruond...

Lighting Design

Light Up Your Home With These Top Lighting Trends for 2024

Check out the latest lighting design trends for 2024 and tips on how you can incorporate them into your home.

Technician woman fixing hardware of desktop computer. Close up....

PC Laptops

Tips for Hassle-Free Computer Repairs

Experiencing a glitch in your computer can be frustrating, but with these tips you can have your computer repaired without the stress.

Close up of finger on keyboard button with number 11 logo...

PC Laptops

7 Reasons Why You Should Upgrade Your Laptop to Windows 11

Explore the benefits of upgrading to Windows 11 for a smoother, more secure, and feature-packed computing experience.

Stylish room interior with beautiful Christmas tree and decorative fireplace...

Lighting Design

Create a Festive Home with Our Easy-to-Follow Holiday Prep Guide

Get ready for festive celebrations! Discover expert tips to prepare your home for the holidays, creating a warm and welcoming atmosphere for unforgettable moments.

Battery low message on mobile device screen. Internet and technology concept...

PC Laptops

9 Tips to Get More Power Out of Your Laptop Battery

Get more power out of your laptop battery and help it last longer by implementing some of these tips from our guide.

Users display warnings about the use of artificial intelligence (AI), access to malicious software ...

Les Olson

How to Stay Safe from Cybersecurity Threats

Read our tips for reading for how to respond to rising cybersecurity threats in 2023 and beyond to keep yourself and your company safe.

Idaho Legislature Shuts Down Due To COVID-19 Outbreak