Youngblood announcing halt to session 3-19-21

Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, second from left, announces to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee on Friday, March 19, 2021, that its meeting is cancelled and the Idaho Legislature is recessing until April 6 due to a COVID-19 outbreak.

The Idaho Legislature abruptly shut down on Friday, recessing until April 6 amid a worsening COVID-19 outbreak at the state Capitol.

House Speaker Scott Bedke said, “I’m not all that surprised. We knew it was a possibility, and we planned for it as best we could.”

In the past week, there have been nine new COVID-19 infections confirmed at the state Capitol: Six House members, one Senate staffer, and two House staffers. All told for the session, there have been 15, including the six House members, two senators, a total of five House staffers and two Senate attachés. In addition, at least one House member is currently in quarantine.

GOP legislative leaders declined to require masks or enforce social distancing during their in-person legislative session and refused requests to allow lawmakers to participate remotely. They did, however, begin allowing members of the public to testify remotely in legislative committee hearings, an option that proved popular.

“I am so grateful that happened, at least,” said House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, D-Boise. “It’s concerning that legislators and staff were subjected to some pretty unsafe conditions, but I think it would have been really unconscionable if we had subjected the public to that kind of health threat just to have a voice in their democracy.”

Bedke said masks won’t be required when lawmakers return, either.

“It would’ve been nice if we could’ve finished completely, but we didn’t, and we’ll come back and finish the job,” he said. “There are many outstanding issues, including property taxes, the transportation bill, the income tax bill, the separation of powers bill just to name a few.”

“All we did was press pause,” Bedke said. “Nothing gets erased. We take it back up on the 6th.”

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Saturday's print edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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