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Idaho Legislature might shut down due to COVID-19 outbreak

Idaho Legislature might shut down due to COVID-19
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BOISE, Idaho (AP) – The Idaho Legislature will consider shutting down for several weeks due to an outbreak of COVID-19, a top Republican said Friday.

Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said that the House will vote on recessing until April 6 when it convenes Friday morning.

At least five of the 70 House members have tested positive for the illness over the past eight days, and there are fears a highly contagious variant of COVID-19 is in the Statehouse.

“The House has had several positive tests, so it is probably prudent that the House take a step back for a couple weeks until things calm down and it’s not hot around here for COVID,” Moyle said.

Four of those who tested positive are Republicans and one is Democrat. Another Republican lawmaker is self-isolating. The chamber has a super-majority of 58 Republicans, most of whom rarely or never wear masks. All the Democratic lawmakers wear masks.

The three lawmakers who tested positive this week had all been participating in debates on the House floor.

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Moyle said the House was waiting to see how the 35-member Senate reacted. Two Republican senators contracted COVID-19 but have recovered and returned to the Senate.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Kelly Anthon said the Senate hadn’t decided how it would react.

“The Senate has not yet been able to caucus to meet to discuss this,” Anthon said. “We would want to be courteous to our colleagues in the House of Representatives. This is what’s playing out this morning.”

A major goal of GOP lawmakers in the Legislature this session has been curbing the emergency powers of the Republican governor to respond to things like pandemics. Legislators have floated several proposals that would restrict Gov. Brad Little’s ability to make sweeping directives in the future.

The House has also been advancing a bill that would ban local governments from requiring that people wear masks. Little, who wears a mask in public and encourages others to do so, has never issued a statewide mask mandate, but a handful of counties and about a dozen cities currently have such orders in place.

About 175,000 Idaho residents have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 1,900 have died. But about 200,000 residents have received both shots of the two-shot vaccine, and another 125,000 have received the first shot. About 1.8 million people live in the state.

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