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Idaho Lawmaker: "Listening To Experts Is An Elitist Approach" To Coronavirus Restrictions

Idaho Legislature

A group of Idaho lawmakers is pushing a bill that would strip the power of public health districts to close schools during an emergency or mandate masks to prevent the spread of disease.

Members of the Education Working Group Monday overwhelmingly voted for the proposal. Many lawmakers said local school board members should be making these decisions, as opposed to public health district board members.

Those board members are typically made up of county commissioners from the region that makes up a public health district. But board members from one part of the district can cast a vote that can affect residents in other parts of the district, similar to the Idaho legislature.

“[Voters] have no recourse. They have no voice,” said Rep. Ryan Kerby (R-New Plymouth), a former school superintendent, who brought the proposal forward.

Sen. Steven Thayn (R-Emmett) was among those who supported the measure. “We’re letting a few fearful people control the lives of those of us who are not fearful,” Thayn said.

“Listening to experts to set policy is an elitist approach and I’m very fearful of an elitist approach,” he said. “I’m also fearful that it leads to totalitarianism, especially when you say, ‘Well. We’re doing it for the public good.’”

Polls have consistently shown most Americans support aggressive measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus, including mask mandates.

A handful of legislators pushed back against the proposal – mostly Democrats.

“This isn’t sacrificing individual liberty,” said Rep. Steve Berch (D-West Boise). “This is balancing the governance process with protecting the larger community."

The measure now goes to House and Senate leadership, as well as the governor’s office, as part of a package of proposals that could be taken up at this month’s special legislative session.

A final decision by Gov. Brad Little on what will be discussed is expected next week.

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. If you have a tip, please get in touch!