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Idaho governor rips state lawmakers amid pandemic concerns

UPDATED: Fri., Jan. 22, 2021

By Keith Ridler Associated Press

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Friday ripped state lawmakers for jeopardizing efforts to fight the coronavirus and called on residents to contact their senators and representatives as they push legislation aiming to strip away some of his authority during a crisis like the pandemic.

In an anger-tinged speech on live television, the Republican governor said the GOP-led Legislature is perpetuating false information and trying to score political points rather than help fight the pandemic. Little said vaccinations are being put at risk.

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

Lawmakers have put forward about a dozen pieces of legislation to curb the governor’s authority. Some of it is aimed at immediately ending Little’s coronavirus emergency declaration, which has been in effect since March.

They join lawmakers in several other states taking similar action.

Emergency declarations are needed to trigger and keep federal money coming, typically from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. State officials say ending the coronavirus emergency could cost the state $20 million in federal aid. Some of that money is being used to mobilize Idaho National Guard soldiers to help with testing and, in the future, vaccinations.

Maj. Gen. Michael J. Garshak, commanding general of the Idaho National Guard, also spoke and said ending the emergency declaration could force some 400 troops helping in the pandemic response to stand down.

Lawmakers say they’re angry about coronavirus restrictions that limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer, not counting religious or political gatherings. Little said the restrictions are separate from the emergency declaration and that he’s specifically told lawmakers that.

“The inflammatory comments from the governor’s office do nothing but complicate the process,” the House Republican Caucus said in a statement. “The life-altering concerns revolving around the COVID-19 emergency continue to be in the front of our minds.”

Little issued a temporary stay-home order in March as the virus spread rapidly, overwhelming some hospitals and leaving health care workers scrambling for protective equipment.

The lockdown gave the state and hospitals time to gather supplies, but unemployment spiked. Little lifted most restrictions over the summer, and unemployment dropped. But a virus surge in the fall led him to reinstate some restrictions.

State officials report that nearly 160,000 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and more than 1,600 have died.

Many lawmakers bristled at Little’s restrictions, especially the March lockdown.

In the House, one piece of legislation would end the governor’s emergency declaration, knowing federal funds would be cut off.

A Senate committee earlier this week approved legislation that also would immediately end the emergency declaration but with the intention of keeping federal money coming. The bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Steve Vick, couldn’t explain how that would work when asked by other lawmakers.

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