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Boise State Public Radio News is here to keep you current on the news surrounding COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

Top Idaho House Republicans Tell Gov. Little To Hand Over Control Of Coronavirus Response

House Speaker Scott Bedke, Speaker, House Speaker
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Some of Idaho’s top Republican lawmakers are now calling on Gov. Brad Little (R) to give up control of the coronavirus response to local officials.

In a letter sent to Little on Sunday obtained by Boise State Public Radio, House Speaker Scott Bedke (R-Oakley) urged him to hand over the reins of the state’s coronavirus approach to each of Idaho’s seven public health districts.

Calling the governor’s order “ill advised,” Bedke wrote there’s “an acceptable level of risk” between a blanket stay-at-home order and completely dismissing the virus to avoid a “major, long-lasting economic catastrophe.”

“Let's continue informing our citizens about the health risks and then, to the greatest degree possible, let them govern themselves.”

Bedke acknowledged the legislature has little authority under existing law to handle these kinds of emergencies, but warned Little that “the way you exercise legislative powers now will affect how the Legislature views those powers when it next convenes” in January.

As of Tuesday evening, state officials had confirmed 1,464 cases and 39 deaths linked to COVID-19.

House Majority Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma (R-Hammett) also sent an email to the governor and her fellow lawmakers Tuesday morning, saying Little’s stay-at-home order wasn’t based on any metrics or data she’s seen.

Blanksma serves as the vice chair of Central District Health’s board of directors, which includes Ada, Boise, Elmore and Valley counties.

She’s been consistently skeptical of the coronavirus’s epidemiological potential, tweeting "This is not the plague. Stop treating it like it is. Wash your hands and act like responsible humans.”

A few days later, shortly before the House adjourned for the year and prior to Gov. Little issuing his statewide order, Blanksma was asked why she thinks there shouldn’t be restrictions in places without large amounts of confirmed cases, despite a lack of available testing.

“There are plenty of infectious diseases we could be testing for. How much do you want to test for? Do you want to test everyone everywhere they go? I mean, there’s a limit to what you can test for,” she said in March.

Other Idaho House lawmakers have openly disregarded public health recommendations to stem the transmission of the virus. Just an hour after sending a statement to the media saying House and Senate leaders were taking "proactive steps" to follow these guidelines, like "avoiding crowded rooms" and "limiting social contact," House Republicans invited the chamber to an annual end of the legislative session party at a bar in downtown Boise. It's unclear how many people showed up.

Other members of the governor’s party have blasted him for what they see as an “unconstitutional” response and have openly defied the order, which can be punishable by a six-month jail term.

Rep. Tim Remington (R-Coeur d’Alene), a pastor at a church in north Idaho, held services March 29. He said such orders violate people’s First Amendment rights to gather peacefully and practice religion.

“They have just showed everybody in this nation how, because of a flu, ok, they can completely take away all of your First Amendment rights,” Remington said during the service.

The board of directors at the church later chose to solely hold online services for its congregation.

Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) urged her constituents to push back against the order in her official legislative newsletter nearly two weeks ago.

“Unconstitutional edicts do not take precedence over our inalienable rights!  Our rights, and the Constitution protecting those rights, do not go away in times of emergency.”

Two Democrats, meanwhile, encouraged the governor to keep the order in place while state officials determine a safe way to ease these restrictions. Sen. Mark Nye (D-Pocatello) asked Little to hold tight to his order for "another week or two" to prevent a potential spike in cases.

"We want to believe that everyone will follow advice and recommendations to keep each other safe, but this is a highly contagious virus that can bring even the strongest among us to our knees," wrote Rep. Melissa Wintrow (D-Boise).

A spokeswoman for Gov. Little did not respond to a request for comment.

On Monday, he said that Idaho will not fully re-open when he updates his order Wednesday morning.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.

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