Mar. 22, 2021 -- The Idaho legislature voted to shut down for two weeks due to a COVID-19 outbreak among several lawmakers and staff.
The House and Senate will be in recess until April 6. At least six of the 70 members in the House, as well as a handful of House and Senate staff, tested positive for COVID-19 during the past week, according to The Associated Press..
“The House has had several positive tests, so it is probably prudent that the House take a step back for a couple of weeks until things calm down and it’s not hot around here for COVID,” Mike Moyle, the House majority leader, said before the lawmakers voted.
The House asked the Senate to go into recess as well, which the Senate honored about an hour after the House vote. The move was an “unusual and kind of historic request,” Chuck Winder, the Senate’s president pro-tempore, said on Friday.
Among those who tested positive for COVID-19 during the week, five are Republicans and one is a Democrat, the AP reported. Republican leaders in the House and Senate didn’t impose a mask mandate during the session this year, and most Republicans rarely wore masks, though Democrats typically did.
“I think maybe when they come back maybe it will be different,” Scott Bedke, the House speaker, who is Republican, said after the vote. “But I have no regrets on the safety protocols here to this point.”
Both sides of the legislature will now use the time to prepare for several major decisions when they reconvene. Lawmakers have been working on the state budget, as well as the latest round of federal coronavirus relief funds. Bedke said the recess will be used to catch up on paperwork and other business.
During this year’s session, lawmakers have worked on proposals that would limit the powers of the governor during emergency scenarios such as the COVID-19 pandemic, according to CNN. In addition, the House has pushed forward a bill that would stop local governments from requiring people to wear masks. Although the state hasn’t had a statewide mask mandate, several counties and cities have issued mask orders.
In a joint statement, the Democratic minority leaders — Ilana Rubel in the House and Michelle Stennett in the Senate — said they hope their colleagues recover from COVID-19 and that the legislature should be more prepared when they return in April.
“We can’t help but be disappointed in how bad things have become at the Capitol, when we could’ve prevented this from becoming a hot spot all along,” they wrote. “We are just so sorry it took so many people getting sick for us to act. We must do better when we return, or else we’ll keep finding ourselves in this position.”