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

Idaho Senate Backs Off From Ending Coronavirus Emergency Declaration

The Idaho State Flag hanging inside the Statehouse Rotunda.
James Dawson
Boise State Public Radio

Governor Brad Little’s pushback against state senators trying to kill his emergency declaration has succeeded – for now.

State senators shelved a resolution Wednesday morning that would’ve cancelled the state’s coronavirus emergency declaration

Republicans had previously argued that by cancelling the emergency declaration, they could do away with protective measures currently in place to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Sen. Steve Vick (R-Dalton Gardens), one of the resolution's sponsors, conceded that social distancing rules would “probably” not have been affected by a repeal of the emergency declaration.

The governor’s office said Vick’s resolution would’ve jeopardized about $20 million in federal disaster relief funds.

Vick said he intends to revisit the issue because of concerns over federal aid money.

“The primary reason is because there’s a better way to accomplish the goals in this legislation,” Vick said.

The emergency declaration enables the state to collect federal disaster aid. That money has been used for the state’s vaccine rollout, veterans’ programs, and local school districts, among other things.

State limits on gatherings and local mask mandates are separate orders implemented by the governor, regional public health districts or municipal governments, independent of the emergency declaration.

Last week, Little blasted lawmakers who tried to repeal the declaration, calling it a “shameful” game used to score political points.

“We are in the final lap of the pandemic fight. The finish line is close. We are so close to returning to normal, but all of that success is threatened by the actions taking place in the legislature right now,” Little said.

Former Idaho Speaker of the House Bruce Newcomb co-wrote an op-ed opposing the resolution with Congressman Mike Simpson, a former Idaho house speaker himself. The two Republicans said repealing the emergency declaration would “endanger” the lives of the state’s residents.

“The Idaho Legislature’s reckless and careless attempts to end the COVID-19 emergency declaration and weaken Idaho’s response in future emergencies puts this generation and future generations of Idahoans at risk,” they wrote.

As Senate Republicans regroup, Republicans in the House are trying to lift Little’s restrictions on social gatherings. This resolution passed on Monday by a vote of 55-15.

During debate on the House floor, Rep. Heather Scott (R-Blanchard) declared “the pandemic is over.” Others supporting the resolution said limiting their ability to gather with friends and family is unconstitutional.

Idaho has one of the highest national rates of COVID-19 infection; death rates per capita far outpace neighboring Oregon and Washington.

In order to take effect, the House resolution must also be passed by the Senate.

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

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