Idaho Legislature shuts down due to COVID-19 outbreak

·2 min read

BOISE, Idaho — 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 unprecedented move 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.

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.

Two senators contracted COVID-19 but have recovered and returned to the 35-member Senate.

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.

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

Keith Ridler, The Associated Press