Gov. Brad Little issued a stinging rebuke to Republican lawmakers Friday, saying they were playing a “shameful” game that threatens the state’s pandemic recovery by trying to repeal Idaho’s emergency declaration.
“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, knocking on his podium to emphasize the point.
Two separate attempts are underway in the House and Senate to lift the declaration, which officials in the Little administration said would jeopardize up to $24 million in federal disaster relief money.
Those funds have gone toward services for veterans, local governments, school districts and the coronavirus vaccine rollout, which is currently underway.
“Every decision has been a balancing act and while the pandemic response has not been perfect, I do believe we achieved a balance,” Little said.
Many Republicans have been trying to upend the declaration for months, including a failed attempt during the August special session, in response to what they see as a complete overreach of executive power during a crisis.
But the emergency declaration isn’t linked to any restrictions imposed by the governor’s stay-healthy order, nor is it coupled with any public health orders issued by individual public health districts.
That means limits on gathering sizes or public mask mandates would still be in effect even if the emergency declaration were repealed, which some Republicans have said would be eliminated.
“That is patently false. Amazingly, some in the Idaho legislature are perpetuating that myth,” Little said.
If these legislative attempts are successful, Idaho would be the only state in the country without an emergency declaration in effect for the coronavirus pandemic.
“Let me be clear: undeniably, COVID-19 is an emergency. Hundreds of Idahoans have died and many more have been horribly sick. Many Idahoans still face the same terrible risk,” Little said.
As of Friday afternoon, state health officials have recorded 1,654 deaths and 129,063 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 since March 13, 2020. Another 29,137 probable cases have also been reported.
Idaho ranks 14th among all states in terms of COVID-19 case rates per-capita since last January according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, even though Idaho has the 39th highest total population in the U.S.
House Republicans blasted Little’s speech Friday in a statement, saying they will “continue to work to address the concerns of the Idaho families whom they represent.”
“The inflammatory comments from the Governor’s office do nothing but complicate the process.”
Senate Republicans in a statement said, "We appreciate the Governor's concerns, but it categorically maligns legislative efforts as the Senate works diligently to address the much-needed rebalancing of power."
Earlier this week, Senate Republican leadership was told their efforts to preserve federal funding while still ending the emergency declaration wouldn’t work.
In supporting the proposal, Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder (R-Boise) said, “I think it takes away the arguments of others that the Senate is not going to be serious about dealing with some of these concerns of the public.”
Winder acknowledged that the resolution might not have its intended effect.
“There are some risks involved no matter how we approach it, but we are trying to say that this needs to change,” he said at the time. “We need to figure out a way to move on.”
Some on the committee, including Sens. Patti Anne Lodge (R-Huston) and Jim Guthrie (R-McCammon) voiced concerns about the potential loss of federal funding.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, an influential lobbying group made up of the state’s largest employers, issued a statement supporting Little’s emergency declaration and the response it’s enabled the state to provide to the pandemic.
“The emergency order is the pathway to getting that normalcy back,” the group said. “Let’s not cut off our chance to finish off this virus.”
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