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Idaho Legislature likely to be at Capitol in January as scheduled, despite COVID-19 concerns

Idaho House chambers
Posted at 1:58 PM, Dec 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-17 15:58:01-05

This article was originally published by Jim Keyser in the Idaho Statesman.

Amid calls to postpone the 2021 Idaho legislative session because of the continued spread of the coronavirus and the toll the pandemic is taking on the health care system, House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, indicated in a statement Wednesday that lawmakers will meet on schedule in January.

Gov. Brad Little told Idaho Ed News last week that legislators should consider delaying the session or meeting virtually, something other states have done, citing the Capitol building as a “pretty good petri dish for transmissible moments of COVID.”

On Tuesday, minority Democrats sent a letter to Bedke and Republican Sen. Chuck Winder requesting that the session be postponed “until at least April 5, 2021, or until those Idahoans who so desire have had an opportunity to be vaccinated.” The letter was signed by Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, of Ketchum, and House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, of Boise.

“We received a letter from the Idaho House and Senate Minority Leadership requesting postponement of the 2021 Legislative Session. Despite their request, we are bound to legislative rules, per the Idaho Constitution, that requires the passage of a Joint Resolution with a two-thirds majority vote to change the start date and terms of an Idaho legislative session,” Bedke wrote in response, in a letter that was part of a news release Wednesday.

“We are duty bound to follow the Idaho Constitution and the rules of the Idaho House of Representatives, and will continue to work within those parameters to find the best possible solution.”

Bedke also wrote that leaders have “looked at all viable options to meet safety protocols within our existing rules. We are continuously working on a viable solution that will provide the maximum level of workplace comfort for all members of the Idaho Legislature.”

However, Bedke has said that there will be no mandates requiring masks, social distancing or specific behavior to help keep people safe. Many Republicans did not wear masks or practice distancing during recent organizational meetings at the Statehouse or during last summer’s special session, which also featured crowded galleries of maskless Idahoans.

The letter from Stennett and Rubel stated that “proceeding with session in a few weeks, indoors, in-person, and with no masking or distancing requirements flies in the face of all public health guidance … and would likely contribute substantially to community transmission at a time when our health care facilities can least afford to be further inundated.”

Vaccines are being shipped to Idaho as we write this letter, but will likely not be fully deployed and available until at least late March of 2021,” according to the Democrats’ letter. “Why subject legislators, their families, staff, journalists and the public to a highly dangerous environment when we can do all the necessary work a few months later at a vastly reduced risk?”