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Idaho legislators going home until April 6 due to COVID-19 outbreak

Politics

BOISE — The Idaho House and Senate voted to recess Friday until April 6 as a result of a novel coronavirus outbreak at the Statehouse.

The reason behind the vote is six members of the House are out sick with COVID-19. Two House members — Reps. James Ruchti, D-Pocatello, and Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell — tested positive for COVID-19 on Thursday. That makes six House members who tested positive for COVID-19 in the past week, according to the Idaho Statesman.

Four of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is Democrat. The sixth lawmaker, a Republican, 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. Three lawmakers who tested positive this week, two of the 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, according to the Associated Press.

“This is an unusual and kind of historic request of us,” Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder, R-Boise said. “It was not our plan to do this yet. We wanted to work and try to have all our business done a week from today.”

RELATED: Idaho Legislature might shut down due to COVID-19 outbreak

In order to make the legislative session effective, both members of the House and Senate agreed it would be best to have everyone present in Boise before moving forward, Sen. Kelly Arthur Anthon R-Burley said as he addressed the Senate. He further went on to explain that it is expected legislators should be productive during the time on recess in preparation for the April return.

As part of the vote, all upcoming committee meetings have been canceled until the Legislature can reconvene.

Democratic Leaders Ilana Rubel and Michelle Stennett said they are thankful for the decision to take a two-week pause, according to an emailed statement sent to the media. However, the leaders were critical that the legislature took so long to act on the virus.

“We hope our colleagues are able to heal quickly and return, so we can finish the session. 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,” the pair said in a joint statement. “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.”

A hallmark of this session has been curbing the emergency powers of Republican Gov. Brad Little governor to respond to things like pandemics, and legislation in opposition to restrictions or shutdowns caused by outbreaks of COVID-19.

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.

“These have been trying times, they have been trying for all of us,” Sen. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise said. “I hope when we return we are able to do so safely.”

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