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Idaho lawmakers eye fast exit if coronavirus hits Statehouse

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Gov. Brad Little and leaders in the Idaho House and Senate said Thursday they've made contingency plans for a hasty end to the legislative session should someone in the Statehouse get the new coronavirus.

"The fact that we aggregate people from all 44 counties right here, and lots of visitors coming in, there's a compelling argument that we probably shouldn't continue with that concentration if things change," the Republican governor said after attending an investment meeting that touched on the declining stock market.

The plan in place at the moment is to get budget bills through the process quickly because the Legislature, by law, can't adjourn without approving a balanced budget.

"We've still got some things to do before we go, and we're moving as expeditiously as possible to accomplish that," Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke said after an afternoon session. The House was convening again a short time later to work on budget bills. He's also considering having lawmakers work on Saturday.

Bedke said that nonessential bills could be abandoned if needed, a possible scenario if one of the 105 lawmakers in the Statehouse or someone in frequent contact with lawmakers contracted the virus.

"Then, of course, we'd have to take action because everybody has been exposed, and everybody needs to go self-isolate," he said.

State officials say 93 people in Idaho have so far been tested, but no one has been positive for COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.

Also on Thursday, the House moved with lighting speed to unanimously approve a $2 million request from Little for money to go into an emergency fund to fight the virus. The Senate approved the same request Wednesday, also unanimously.

Some of the money will be used by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare to test for the virus. Lawmakers say Idaho will receive $4.5 million from the federal government, but it's not clear when the money will arrive.

Little said Idaho has the resources needed to keep testing going until the federal money is available.

Republican Rep. Rick Youngblood told House members that the emergency fund is nearly depleted.

"I couldn't tell you honestly if we're going to spend $2, $4 or $10 million," Youngblood said on the House floor. "I'm not sure we'd spend any money on coronavirus. But we want to be prepared for any emergency for the state of Idaho."

Republican Majority Leader Chuck Winder said possible plans include adjourning for several days or a week or two if a case shows up in the Statehouse.

"I think what you're going to see is us try to get our work done, get it all done, and hopefully make it out of here before we have a problem with the virus," he said.

He said wrapping up would likely take at least until Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.

On Wednesday, a popular Boise music festival scheduled for this spring was postponed until September amid growing concerns about the new coronavirus outbreak.

Treefort Music Fest attracts crowds of more than 20,000 people. This year more than 400 artists and bands were in the lineup for the week-long festival originally scheduled to begin March 25.

Idaho / Idaho Politics / Local News / News / Top Stories

Associated Press

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