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Some legislators hoping to quash COVID-19 limits on group gatherings

Politics

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Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, introduces a resolution to reverse limits to gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BOISE — A number of Idaho representatives hope to end the COVID-19 limits on public gatherings with a concurrent resolution.

The resolution proposed by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, and Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, proposes the nullification of the Dec. 30, 2020 emergency order prohibiting gatherings greater than 10 people in Idaho. Gov. Brad Little established the order with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare as part of the Idaho Rebounds plan designed to limit the spread of COVID-19.

“I think it’s inconsistent. I think it’s wrong,” Crane said. “If you really are a firm believer in this 10 person rule or more, they should apply across the board.”

Crane introduced the legislation on Thursday to the House State Affairs Committee. Crane said the resolution came about after attending a high school basketball game in December. Afterward, photos of the crowds circulated social media as state officials discussed enforcement to limit crowds at sporting events.

“We’re all logical human beings, every one of us,” Ehardt told EastIdahoNews.com. “The parents are looking around at these huge empty gyms … and then going into a Walmart packed and saying ‘tell me, please tell me why you’re keeping me from watching my child?'”

“Idaho law allows the legislature to nullify an emergency order like the one issued in December through a resolution by the legislature. Resolutions must be passed by both the Hosue and Senate, but do not need governor approval. The process for the legislature to nullify the order is actually written into the same law Little used to pass the emergency order.

During the hearing, Rep. Julianne Young R-Blackfoot told the committee she has received more feedback on the limits to gatherings than any other issue since being elected. Several other legislators agree with her.

It’s not completely clear what will happen if the legislation passes both the House and Senate. During the committee hearing, Young asked Crane if such legislation really changes the situation with local health districts potentially enacting their own bans on gatherings.

RELATED | Idaho lawmakers seeking increased role, limitations on governor’s authority over coronavirus restrictions

“That is an unanswered question as to who actually has the power and who’s going to make that determining factor,” Crane responded. “This is specifically dealing with the Governor’s order.”

Southeast Idaho Public Health Maggie Mann explained that in District 6, the board has only issued recommendations and not any requirements for the various risk levels. Thus, if the measure passes in Idaho, Mann doesn’t anticipate any changes. Eastern Idaho Public Health, which has put COVID-19 requirements in place, declined to comment about the impacts of the resolution.

All but one on the committee voted to send the resolution to the house floor with the recommendation to pass. Rep. Chris Mathias, D-Boise, voted no on the measure. Mathias told EastIdahoNews.com he feels the resolution is based on a false premise.

“That is, if we lift the order, we can return to life as normal,” Mathias said. “That’s not true. If we lift the order, we may be able to undertake seemingly ‘normal’ activities, but the resultant spread will necessarily force us to stop doing other things, like safely sending our kids to school full-time or going skiing when you have time rather than an appointment.”

On Monday, the committee voted to move the legislation to the House floor, where it is being debated by the House. If the House votes yes, the resolution would go to the Senate for approval.

The resolution is not the only attack upon Little’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Several other bills and resolutions in both the House and Senate seek to curb the governor’s powers and ability to declare emergencies.

You can view the latest on the 2021 Idaho Legislative Session and other political news here.

SUBMIT A CORRECTION