'The Pandemic Is Over' As Idaho House Republicans Vote To Lift Gathering Restrictions
The Idaho House overwhelmingly voted to lift all limits on gatherings Monday as lawmakers move to repeal the governor’s pandemic restrictions.
Last week as lawmakers were considering this proposal, Gov. Brad Little and the Idaho State Board of Education loosened caps on how many people could attend school sporting events. Schools can now allow enough fans to fill up to 40% of their gym’s capacity if masks are worn or physical distancing can be maintained. At minimum, each athlete can invite up to four guests.
Before the change, each athlete was limited to having two guests in the stands, while some, like on the dance team, were excluded from inviting anyone.
Republican Rep. Brent Crane (R-Nampa), who’s sponsoring the resolution, noted the change in his closing statements.
“Thankfully, on Friday we got 40% of our First Amendment rights back, but with the passage of this legislation, we are sending a very clear message that we want 100% of our First Amendment rights back,” Crane said.
Little’s order still bans gatherings of more than 10 people.
Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard), who’s been a frequent critic of the governor’s coronavirus response, noted that the more than 1,600 deaths in Idaho “are nowhere close” to qualifying the viral spread as a pandemic.
“The pandemic is over by all means of data,” Scott said.
Cases have been on a downward trend in Idaho over the past several weeks. But Idaho ranks 15th in the country for number of cases per capita over the life of the pandemic and 38th for deaths per capita, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Neighboring Oregon and Washington have about twice as few deaths per capita and between 2.25 and 2.75 fewer cases per capita.
One lawmaker even said he broke with Little’s order during the Christmas holiday. Rep. John Vander Woude (R-Nampa) said he had about 20 family members to his home during that time.
“We are not individuals who should be isolated,” Vander Woude said. “There are side effects of isolation and I believe that further down the road we are going to see the effects of this be very detrimental to our society.”
The 55-15 vote in favor of the resolution was nearly party line, with three Republicans voting against it. That includes Rep. Fred Wood (R-Burley), who’s a retired physician.
“The ability to limit people gathering is one of the significant tools that we have to limit the spread of communicable diseases and to eliminate that tool completely, I think, is inappropriate,” Wood said.
All 12 Democrats voted against it.
“This has been something that government has been doing throughout our history and it is constitutional for that reason,” said Rep. John Gannon (D-Boise), referencing mitigation efforts around typhoid and the Spanish flu in the early 20th century.
Resolutions can’t be vetoed by the governor. It now heads to the Senate, where it still needs approval to take effect.
Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.
Copyright 2021 Boise State Public Radio
Member support is what makes local COVID-19 reporting possible. Support this coverage here.